Productivity and innovation are both essential to business success, but they make surprisingly strange bedfellows. Productivity emphasizes routine and functionality in order to maximize efficiency so that what is supposed to happen happens. While such customized and production-centered atmospheres often boast high and predictable yields, they rarely also boast the nimble, unstructured and creative thinking that true innovation requires.
No business or organization can sustainably thrive without ongoing innovation in products, service, structure and marketing, and the American worker’s current level of decreased productivity may be directly tied to a lack of innovation. It is time for your business to embrace originality, improvement and hare-brained scheming.
It doesn’t matter what type of industry you’re in. It doesn’t matter what part of your business model you rely on. From IT to men’s fashion, innovation will keep you in business. How you get there, of course, isn’t set in stone: You can make use of LeadingAuthorities.com’s innovation speaker roster and aim to shake up overly predictable patterns of thinking. You can re-structure your workday so that it includes more uncertainty and dynamism. You can hire a consulting firm staffed entirely by college dropouts. Regardless of the path you choose, however, innovation is a must. To that end, then, here are seven ways to help you more effectively foster innovation within yourself and your ranks.
Innovation cannot exist within a static and uniform framework. It’s fueled by difference. Too often, organizations look for employees and business partnerships that fit neatly within their current aims and values. While such homogeneity can make for a smoother ride, it does little to foster growth. Different people with different perspectives will help different ideas and solutions emerge. Make it a priority to hire people and work with organizations whose backgrounds and world-views are unlike your own.
Promoting Great Conversation
Once you’ve facilitated some difference within your organization, it’s time to promote the chemical reactions that lead to innovation through some great conversation. Good and enjoyable conversation with another person releases dopamine in the brain — a pleasure chemical that also happens to be associated with creativity. Pleasurable conversations between people who view the world differently are the perfect environment for the sparks of innovation.
Un-focusing and Re-focusing
It really is true that you can sometimes miss the forest for the trees. When productivity and getting-things-done become all-consuming, try to un-focus for a time. Stop keeping your regular daily and weekly schedules. Throw a wrench into your own system so that your un-focusing can help you re-focus your attention. Talk to peers and employees who are not regularly part of your workweek. The important thing is to create some slack so you can see when, where, if and how you want to pick it up again.
Innovation is only as good as the goals you reach and goals are only worth reaching if they support your values. Being values-driven isn’t just a catch phrase — it’s a way of ensuring that in all things, both mundane and world-altering, you maintain core reasons for being. Don’t just seek to improve your products and services; seek to embody your values in a new way.
Start With Insights — Not Ideas
When you want to come up with a new idea, it can be tempting to try and aim at that idea directly, but until you know what that new idea is, aiming at it will be like a mute game of Marco Polo.
Instead, aim at gaining new insights, new expertise, new learning and new perspectives. Talk to your customers, and see if they have any insights for you. Look into market fluctuations, and try to find where you have value. Question your assumptions about best practices. In all things, strive to see and think in a new way.
Innovation requires both patience and fortitude, because failure is its earliest companion. Few people enjoy the doubt that accompanies real risk, but risks must be taken if innovation is to be properly fostered. Encourage efforts, insights and ideas that seem insane, and make sure that no one’s reputation, salary or opportunity suffers because of it. When your team knows they don’t have to hit the ball out of the park every time they take a swing, they’ll keep swinging, and sooner or later, someone will connect.
If you want your team to come up with The Next Big Thing, incentivizing their effort may improve your odds. Give clear-cut parameters that embody your company’s values and goals, and structure a framework that rewards new insights that match up with those values and goals. The incentives don’t need to be massive; they just need to provide a little fuel to encourage your already-hard-working team to spin their creative wheels a little faster.
Whether your bottom line is excellent or it sags a little more than you’d like, innovation will keep your business in business. From tolerating failure to remembering your values, fostering an atmosphere that promotes innovation can be challenging, but it’s a challenge that will pay remarkable dividends, both in how you experience your work and life now and how you sustain yourself and your organization in the future.