Four Ways Anyone Can Be More Innovative

President and COO of TIAGan innovative technology company providing strategic and transformational commercial and defense solutions.

It’s safe to say that innovation is key to succeeding in today’s world and that to stay ahead of the curve, businesses and individuals must constantly be looking for new ways to delight their customers. But innovation is also a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in the tech industry…so what does it actually mean? And how can leaders not only increase their own ability to be innovative but also successfully harness innovation by more than just creating an environment that is conducive to creativity and new ideas?

What is innovation?

The term gets tossed around the tech industry a lot, and many think of invention and creativity when they hear the word, but those are just two aspects of it. Innovation is more than a product, service, or cutting-edge tech. It’s a process and methodology, a mindset that can be applied to anything, from solving problems to making people’s lives better. And that’s what leaders do best—leaders take challenges and turn them into opportunities to excel, making all aspects of an organization’s business easier, faster and smarter for everyone.

Leaders are important.

It’s not enough to talk about innovation. Unfortunately, that’s where most companies start and stop. But if you think of innovation as a living organism, then it becomes clear that actual care and feeding of systems and processes must happen. You have to take action. A true culture of innovation is relentless. People at every level of the company are constantly asking themselves, “How can this system, tool, process, design and team be more impactful, better, efficient, elegant and engaged?” Employees and leaders are coming forward not just with ideas but the plans and next steps for putting them into action. But for leaders and organizations that don’t have the skills, capacity or commitment built in for innovation…that type of culture can be exhausting, overwhelming and, frankly, unsustainable.

Innovation is a skill, not an innate gift.

We not only all have the ability to learn and increase our innovative intelligence, but we can also leverage and incorporate facets of innovation anytime, anywhere. Innovation and leading innovative teams take work, and even the best of us can use a refresher and reminder. Ask yourself: Are you reporting to your teams that the company is open to new ways of doing things? That you value creativity and out-of-the-box thinking? That you’re committed to providing the resources and support necessary for innovation to flourish?

The best time to start? Now.

With yourself. Leading by example shows your team that you’re committed to innovation and willing to take risks to achieve results. Not sure what looks like? Well, that’s OK because there are hundreds of ways to think about, incorporate and foster innovation.

Here are four ways I’ve found that work.

1. Develop an appetite for risk. I’ll start by saying there’s a difference between taking calculated risks and gambling blindly on something. Chances are, you’re risk averse because you’re afraid of making mistakes, looking bad in front of your peers, wasting resources or failing. But if you want to be more innovative, you must conquer this fear and increase your tolerance for risk-taking. Trust and accept that whatever the outcome is, good or bad, you and your team were working in the best interest of the company and know more now to better inform future endeavors. With this mindset, you’ll be a little less likely to worry about things that haven’t happened yet or fixate on past failures. This will free up a lot of time to brainstorm new ideas since you won’t be constantly second-guessing yourself (and your team!).

2. Build your cultural competence. Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of creativity and innovation. To come up with new ideas, you must be willing to think outside the box, be open to different ways of doing things, be inclined to challenge the status quo and biases and be comfortable with your own discomfort. Building your own cultural competence amplifies these abilities and gives you even more tools to create highly inclusive teams with meaningful relationships. This inspires more brainstorming sessions, provides opportunities for employees to experiment and makes collaboration non-negotiable. When people with different expertise and experiences come together and share ideas, they can spark new ways of thinking and come up with solutions that would never have emerged in isolation.

3. Fail fast. Every great idea starts out as a flawed prototype. Don’t avoid failure. Instead of seeing errors or problems as letdowns, see them as opportunities to learn, grow and iterate. Failing fast not only saves time and resources that would otherwise be wasted on pursuing a flawed idea, but it gives you and your teams a better understanding of what does and does not work, which will ultimately help your business be more successful in the long run . I’ve also found that the ability to and acceptance of failing fast is a key component of creating a culture of innovation and risk-taking because your focus isn’t tunnel-visioned on the final product—it’s focused on finding and implementing valuable insights all along the way.

4. Get curious. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people close themselves off to new ideas before even giving them a chance. Ask lots of questions and learn as much as you can about your industry—and the world around you! Listen to the people closest to the problem—the people with boots on the ground. They often have the best ideas for solving it. And remember that your customers can be your best source of information when it comes to understanding what they want and need from your company, so make a point to talk to them regularly

Innovation isn’t some magical force.

It’s not a lightning strike of inspiration and not something that only happens at the top. Innovation is a practice and mindset. It doesn’t happen by accident, but with hard work and dedication (and maybe a few new habits), anyone can cultivate and foster an innovative culture.


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