When you think about innovation, what comes to mind? The iPhone? Driverless cars? Or things that were once considered innovative, such as the humble toaster?
Innovation is all around us and comes in all shapes and sizes. But innovation isn’t just about products. It relates to ideas, methods and processes.
Innovation can also come from unlikely sources. It’s easy to see innovation as solely sourced from people who are creative and inventive, but we can all be innovative.
Two ends to the spectrum
Simple innovation is about making things better, while more radical innovation, or what Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, would call disruptive innovation, is about making things people haven’t yet realised they want. It is this type of innovation that disrupts industries and changes how they work.
Less complex innovation is something all employees across an organisation can contribute to. Encouraging employees to find ways to do things better or to approach things from different angles creates a new source of improvement ideas.
Create the mindset
To do this effectively, your employees need to be encouraged to adopt a growth mindset. If their mindset is telling them “I’m not innovative”, then they’ll miss the opportunity to see what could be different. They won’t take the time to ponder on ‘what could be’, as they’ll be satisfied with ‘what is’.
In a world that is constantly changing, it’s important for all employees to be open to what is new.
Making this progress comes in different ways. Improvement can be about reinvention, tweaking around the edges, refining the process or starting from scratch. The possibilities are vast.
Often when people come up with new ideas it is because they looked for a solution to something that really annoyed them, they were curious, or they simply saw a better way to do something.
For example, Velcro was invented in the 1950s by a Swiss engineer, George de Mestral. It was a day-to-day activity – walking in the Alps – that ultimately resulted in an invention that is still used today. He paid attention and he was curious. He saw how burrs stuck to his clothing and his dog’s fur when walking in the Alps and then took that curiosity one step further.
Encourage your employees to consider in their day-to-day work:
- What frustrates you at work?
- What are you curious about?
- Where are the pain points in your everyday work processes?
- What could be done differently or better?
- What are your competitors doing that you’re not?
In answering these questions, they’ll discover new ways of working.
Learn from failure
Making improvements in organisations isn’t easy. In many respects, it can be easier to sit back and wait for someone else to do it. Why? Because it requires the leaders and all employees to take a risk and be ready for failure as things may not go according to plan. It also requires patience and persistence.
As Brené Brown, the author of multiple books including the fantastic book The Gifts of Imperfection, said: “There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”
Influential leaders are ready for the challenge. They recognise that it won’t be easy, but they know that the upside is that the improvements eventually secured will make things better for their team, stakeholders, customers and ultimately, the organisation.