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Want Them to Be More Innovative? 3 Magic Ways to Bring Out More Ideas

 8th February 2017 by gihan

There’s a lot of talk about business innovation – and it’s almost become so much of a cliche that it has lost its effect. But innovation is one of your most powerful tools to be fit for the future, so don’t ignore it!

Innovation is everybody’s business now – not just something you can hand off to an R&D department. Everybody in every team needs to innovate, because that’s the only way to stay ahead of the game.

But innovation doesn’t always mean huge advances. You don’t have to invent a new iPhone, solve the problems of cultural diversity in the workplace, or build an app that transforms your entire industry. Most innovation happens with much smaller changes – but they are still important.

In fact, think of innovation at three levels:

  • A-B, or bit by bit thinking: These are incremental step changes, making things a little bit better – also known as continuous improvement.
  • A-G, or goal-oriented thinking: This innovation is more of a leap than a step, and involves specific innovation projects to make significant improvements.
  • A-X, or long-term thinking: This innovation is more strategic and long-term. Think of it as going on a quest, where you don’t necessarily know the answer, but you embark on a journey to find it.

The quests get all the attention and publicity, and that’s not surprising because they are exciting and groundbreaking. But the two other types of innovation are just as important in your workplace.

Let’s look at each of them in turn – and I’ll show you how to encourage them in your team.

A-B (incremental) thinking

This kind of innovation happens at the individual level. It doesn’t always need an entire team, and it can occur “in the moment” on regular day-to-day tasks.

Encourage your team members to find improvements in their regular work.

You can do your part by fostering an innovation culture. For example, in each of your staff meetings, perhaps you spend five minutes going around the room and asking everybody to share something interesting or innovative they noticed in their world (Thanks to my friend and innovation expert, Nils Vesk, for this idea).

Also, act fast to implement their ideas. Because we’re talking about small ideas here, you can do them quickly and cheaply. This improves their workplace, but the real value is that it encourages more innovation.

A-G (goal-oriented) thinking

Goal-oriented thinking happens with a project and your entire team. Unlike the individual innovation of A-B thinking, make this a team effort.

Treat it like any other project, with goals, milestones, resources, check-ins, celebrations and so on.

As with other projects, be willing to dedicate time and resources to this innovation. For example, Google allowed their engineers to use 20% of their time to work on private projects (and that led to things like Google Maps, Google News, and Gmail). Even if you don’t make this a formal rule, give people time to work on your innovation project.

A-X (long-term) thinking

For the third kind of innovation, consider breaking up your team into smaller teams, who all work on this long-term innovation project.

Nobody knows where this will lead, so the best you can do is diversify your teams and give them all resources to help them succeed.

In his book “The Luck Factor”, Richard Wiseman points out that extraverts tend to be “luckier” simply because they spend more time with other people, so they are more likely to create useful connections just by chance. The same applies to innovative thinking – give all team members more opportunities and in different environments.

Be willing to kill some sacred cows – long-established rules and norms that are still in place because “we have always done it that way”. Imagine what would happen if you did them differently – and perhaps even do them differently and see what happens! This can make waves, but be willing to stand by your teams.

You might also create friendly competition between teams (but always in a light-hearted way, because you don’t want them sabotaging each other). For example, Instant Offices challenges its employees to work in teams to develop and present their ideas in a format like the reality TV show Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank.

What are YOU doing to build an innovation culture in your workplace?

As a leader, you play a large role in your team’s innovation culture. What are you doing to foster incremental thinking, goal-oriented thinking, and long-term thinking in your team, business, or organisation?

For more, you can watch the recording of my recent webinar, “Bright Sparks – The Future of Innovation”:


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