How to be an innovator – 10 ideas that could innovate you and your business
Nov 24 2016
Innovation can be the greatest idea you have ever come up with. It can be, but more than often it isn’t. There are some people who keep on coming up with great ideas, intersected with failures of course, but the reason that they keep on succeeding time and time again isn’t just about the ideas, it’s about their attitude towards formulating and capturing the ideas.
In our first issue, we want to share with you some of the commonalities that can make you an innovator and improve your business. These things can be learnt but in order to ‘act differently’ you need to ‘think different’.
1) Coproduction. Embrace your biggest asset – your staff
When you employ a member of staff they come to you with much more than just their ability to do the job. After you give them the role, they are much more than just a job title. The problem is we only ever capture a small amount of that enthusiasm and skill set. If your staff are not appreciated or told that work is about much more than doing their job then you’re missing a trick. An asset-based approach towards your staff will open up another world of possibilities. Did you know that Mike in accounts is a designer in his spare time? Did you know that Bea in logistics is a trained motivational speaker? You may have seen their CV in 2004, but the likelihood is that as day to day takes over, you don’t know what their passions are, or how they view their job or the business. Our advice to you: stop and reassess.
Even if it takes you the next year, factor in ten minutes to meet everyone in your office. Ask them how they think things are going or what the competitors are up to. Ask them what you can do to develop them or what they would do in your shoes with a magic wand.
If a business is largely about relationships then, alongside customers, your relationship with your staff is joint top. If you converse and capture, then you show that you care, which in turn can lead to them caring. Often all that takes is a ten-minute chat to see what they can do and how they would do it. At the very worse, that ten minutes will last for weeks and weeks in their mind, going from “my director doesn’t even know who I am” to “she does care about her staff after all”. Who knows what will come from these conversations? John from the canteen may have an idea that can save you money and time, while Brenda from the shop floor has been waiting for years for someone to take on her idea about improving the shift rota. You have nothing to lose, it’s going to take a bit of time, but the rewards can be huge both on a personal and business level.
2. Networking – Get to know the ones you don’t
I push the point regularly that one of the cornerstones of good business is relationships. Relationships with staff, customers, allies, foes – they all count. One thing that is often missed however, is the opportunity to network, and to network regularly. You’re too busy? Something has to give? Ok, but you’re missing one of the cornerstones of innovation and the chance to take your business into a new phase. Networking with your peers is important. It won’t be hard to find businesses in your sector that meet up regularly. A great example on the tech scene in London is the ‘Silicon Drink About’. Organised by the @_3 beards, it has been a staple on the technology scene for some time now. It gives people interested in technology an opportunity outside of work to talk about hopes, fears, ideas and plans. Once these discussions start, you are going to learn something.
In order to ‘act different’ you need to ‘think different’.
Networking with other business and people, not in your immediate line of sight is also important. I attended a technology forum recently in my home town in the UK (Leicester Tech StartUP). Attending this session led to attending another session, which led to a chat, which has now resulted in a business opportunity that I could never have imagined. I couldn’t have planned this to happen but it did, and it happens to innovators and innovative organisations regularly. Why? Because innovators open themselves up to the opportunity.
Innovation can be the greatest idea you have ever come up with
3. Become a watcher and pay attention to what is happening
Observing what is happening in your business world, and on the periphery will reap rewards. You will be able to keep on top of things and learn from others. At the very least take an hour each week to research your industry, look at papers, magazines and your competitor’s websites. Attend forums and go to network meetings, use the internet and learn. It’s extremely rare to come up with new ideas, but these can come from several sources, which in turn form new ideas. Nokia used to be in the rubber boots and paper business but somewhere along the line they observed, learnt, saw the opportunity and went forward into telecommunications.
4. Why are we doing it that way? Are you sure it’s been done already? Question, question and then question again
It has become a bit of a cliché, particularly after one company named after fruit used it in their marketing, but questioning, and in turn, doing things differently is king when it comes to innovation. Sometimes by just asking ‘why?’ you will react differently. This will lead to improvements, and going back to basics. IBM asked 1,500 CEOs (IBM 2010 CEO Global Study) what was one of the most important skills going forward in business. The response? Creativity. This will often come from questioning so if you don’t question, you’ll struggle to create something new.
5. Howdy partner! Let’s do it together
Working with other people and doing it together will introduce a whole new world to your business. There are times due to competition or conflict of interests that this isn’t going to work, but certain streams of business are crying out for partnerships, and often fail due to a “we know the best mentality”. You don’t always know best, and it’s fine to be wrong. Going forward alone in the wrong direction can often be corrected by partnerships with others who may have the ying to your yang.
6. What on earth are you thinking? Don’t worry… It’s ok to be weird
One of the tag lines from this magazine is “business, as usual, is yesterday’s news”, which is great for innovation, but sometimes doing things the conventional way works, and of course, there are times when you don’t want to be seen as the ‘oddball’ in the room. However, nothing new or innovative was done by following the rules. Creative entrepreneurs are often different, they can see through the facade, and they stand out with their ideas and the way they do business. Just because it doesn’t fit doesn’t mean it’s wrong, on the contrary, the rules that currently exist may be wrong. We’re often told to change, too, tone it down, sit down and fit in. Them’s the rules. If you want to change something, give it a go; it may be weird or different but you can trace the oddballs or the different ones to a multitude of brilliant and game-changing ideas and successful businesses. Once upon a time the word ‘geek’ was an insult but now the geeks are running the tech show, and they wear their geekiness with pride. Be true to your own style and things can change.
7. Blow your comfort zone to pieces, it’s scary but do it anyway
We can often operate solely within our comfort zone, never trying anything new, never daring to enter the brave new world where our passions can be ignited. It’s tough and it takes a deep breath to try something new. Perhaps you’re skilled at communicating with large groups, but struggle to make friendships on a micro level at work? Perhaps you’re a control freak who manages every decision in your organisation? My message to you is that if you know you struggle with something then that’s the thing that needs your attention, not the things you’re already good at. I’m pretty good at coming up with ideas but my failures have all taught me that I need to share the ideas with others who can often do a better job than me in some way. I’m in my comfort zone coming up with ideas but it’s tough to let them go and grow with others. What I have learnt is that when I step aside and let others in, the results are far better than just me alone. If you want to innovate then try something new, open the door to the fear, try it and repeat. You’re going to learn and develop as a person, which will ultimately impact your business.
8. Association- have a bit of this, some of that, and umm that over there
If you can come up with great new concepts, ideas and thoughts that have no connection to anything else that has been done before then well done. You’re pretty unique. However, in my opinion, we only get Elvis once in a lifetime. That’s not to say that all music that followed Elvis was useless, on the contrary, it wasn’t. The point is that innovation more often than not comes from putting a number of concepts or ideas together. Observing will lead to you getting an overall view of your sector, which in turn will lead to you seeing great ideas, and sometimes great ideas can be better ideas when placed in the same box together. Innovation is learnt to a great degree, and learning from other innovators isn’t cheating. It’s the way the game works, so play the game, open your mind and put the ideas together to build a better idea.
9. Allies, supporters and door openers
You may be great at ‘ideas’ but it might take someone else to get those ideas to the right people, at the right time. I have someone that I take my thoughts and ideas to, she listens, laughs, agrees, disagrees, but most importantly when it really matters, and we both believe in something, she can take it to the right people to take it in the right direction. Talk things over with your boss, a forward-thinking board member or a mentor perhaps. One thing is for sure, whether its finance or expertise or just a listening ear, no one ever made it alone. Having a supporter on your side is going to make all the difference.
10. Embrace and learn from your failures
In some countries and circles, it is perfectly acceptable to have a couple of failures under your belt. Indeed, you’re not a success in some circles unless you can discuss the dotcom failure you headed up in 2001. It’s not about how you fall down, but how you get up. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first reporting job, Van Gogh sold one painting in his life, to a friend, and so on. The world is full of people who failed in other people’s eyes but ignored them and went on to huge success.
There are countless examples of innovators who have been on the cusp of something great, something amazing, only for it to turn to dust. I almost don’t need to say this because as you’re reading Global Innovation, you’re probably interested in innovation, and you’re probably the type of person who is determined and tenacious. However, it’s ok to be bright and breezy when things are going ok. When you can’t sleep because of worry, you have staff who could lose their jobs, kids to feed and a mortgage to pay things could be very different. Learning in these situations is really hard. However when the lights go off, and dinner at The Ritz is replaced by dinner at the drive inn, remember this dear reader: failure is one of the foundations of innovation.
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