Innovation often requires us to think and act differently from the way the human brain likes to operate. For example, some of the most important innovation leadership skills require conscious effort to override the brain’s innate tendency to see what it wants to see. These include:
- Challenging your assumptions
- Changing your perspective
- Asking the right questions
- Questioning the right answer
- Resisting the urge to jump to conclusions
Click here to read more about these essential leadership skills: http://thehumanfactor.biz/the-top-5-leadership-skills-for-sustained-innovation
To further enhance your organization’s ability to innovate, add these to the list:
Start with certainty.
Real innovation is practical, meaning it improves a product, process or service in a way that adds value to customers and/or your business. It’s also driven by hard, as well as soft, data.
Hard data is based on a trend around something that will happen in the future. Soft data comes from trends around something that might happen. For example, the fact that we have an aging population represents a hard trend. Baby Boomers will keep getting older, and nothing can stop that. Innovation is a risky business, so it’s always better to base it, at least in part, on something you know will happen rather than something you think might happen.
Expect to fail.
Failure goes hand-in-hand with innovation. In fact, it’s a requirement for innovating on a consistent basis. If you’re not failing to some degree, you’re not trying or pushing hard enough. The trick is not failing in a way that takes down the whole business. Instead, strive to take measured risks with minimal downside and potentially big upsides. Pilots or tests where you can fail fast and cheap are the answer to exploring innovation options today.
Expecting to fail means you also have to tolerate it and even encourage it to a certain degree. If failure gets punished in your organization, people won’t dare present new ideas or explore different ways of working.
Surround yourself with diversity.
I’m not talking about the limited interpretation of diversity – hiring minorities or people with different ethnic backgrounds. In fact, as America grows increasingly polycultural, that is a given. You also need to surround yourself with people who don’t think, make decisions, or see the world the same way you do. People who gather data, process in a different order, and are influenced in completely different ways.
One of the biggest obstacles to innovation is the failure to examine and update outdated assumptions about our customers, markets and industry. The world moves so fast these days that what was true about our customers as little as six or 12 months ago may no longer be valid. When you surround yourself with people that think and see the world the same as you, those assumptions rarely get challenged. The next thing you know, you’re making a product or service for a customer base that doesn’t exist anymore.
Look for patterns, make connections.
Many people see innovation as the process of pulling totally new ideas out of thin air. In reality, much of innovation comes from seeing what already exists in the world and putting things together in new and different ways. (Steve Jobs was a master at this.)
To innovate, learn to see patterns where others don’t, or at least spot them before anyone else does. Find ways to take what others are already doing (in seemingly disparate sectors) and adapt it to your way of doing business. A good way to see new patterns is to pause for a moment and let the brain run free. Go outside your office, take off your shoes, and walk barefoot in the grass. Breathe deeply and just listen to the sounds. You’ll be amazed how these simple tactile sensations can take your brain in a whole different direction.
Or, try something you do in a different way. If you’re right-handed, use your left to brush your teeth. Take a different route to drive home from work. If you bring a sandwich for lunch every day, bring a salad. Loosen up your thinking and you’ll see patterns and connections you never saw before.
Let go of your success.
When it comes to putting the clamps on innovation, holding onto past successes comes in a close second to incorrect assumptions. When the organizational focus shifts to protecting the status quo, people stop looking for new processes or solutions. When problems arise, people tend to default to the solution that looks most like what has worked in the past rather than exploring new ideas or different ways of doing things. This doesn’t mean to stop doing what still works. But don’t assume that what made you successful in the past will continue to make you successful going forward.
Call to action: Pick one of these leadership skills and work on it for the next month.