What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘innovation’? When we hear innovation, we tend to think of people with grand ideas, who break the mould of what’s expected with creativity and thought-provoking solutions. But what exactly is innovation? It can be a difficult term to define, though it’s worth stating that it isn’t always just about those larger-than-life ideas. Innovation is about any new idea that can help you do things better – whether it’s saving money, increasing brand value or improving efficiency in each department of your organization.
Innovation is something every leader can learn to harness to their advantage. Here, we outline how you can implement the four-step Solution Finder process, as discussed in my latest book The Creative Thinking Handbook, to make innovation an everyday part of your working life.
Step one: Understanding. Define your company mission – and get your team behind it
The first step of the Solution Finder involves defining the challenge you’re facing. Defining your company mission is an integral part of the innovation process. It guides the business decisions you make and provides an end-goal for you to focus your sights on.
When understanding your business goals, try and set a meaningful aspiration for the business that your whole team can get behind; one that has a genuine sense of purpose which resonates with them. Great leaders are ones who get their team members involved in the vision and direction of the company. Allowing your team to connect to the bigger-picture vision you hold for the company is a powerful way to inspire them; it gives clear meaning and direction to every piece of work they create, resulting in higher employee engagement and a positive work-life culture.
Step two: Ideation. Empowering your colleagues to create
Once you have your company mission established, you can move onto step two; generating innovative ideas. Now, as much as this is the fun part, it can also be easier said than done. Innovation will only be able to blossom to its full potential when your overall workplace culture supports and gets behind it. Having creative people within your organization can do wonders for building an innovative work environment. However, it’s important that you create a work climate where people feel empowered to not only share their daring or playful ideas, but also implement them.
Take the classic phrase, ‘there’s no such thing as a bad idea’. Good leaders should not stifle creativity, but instead, encourage their team to expand their thinking and come up with ideas that no one else is doing. Simply sharing ideas amongst each other will fire your team’s imagination and keep the ideas flowing. Keep your team feeling inspired to achieve, and you may just land on your next golden nugget.
Step three: Analysis. Mining for diamonds
The creative process of idea generation allows you to explore a multitude of avenues. The third step of the Solution Finder is to evaluate these ideas and pick out those shining, innovative nuggets of creativity from the bunch that hold the biggest potential.
When filtering through your ideas, it’s vital to consider what your competitors are doing. There’s a pressure for business leaders to keep up with the competition and continue to offer something of value to their customers, or risk falling behind. This makes innovation a key driver for leaders to stand out from the crowd and implement effective and meaningful strategies and campaigns. Consider what you could be doing differently to others when developing your products and services. True innovation practice allows you to take on board what your competitors are doing, but not let it drive you; thus allowing you to come up with unique and disruptive solutions. Staying ahead of the competition will keep you relevant and fresh in the eyes of your customers, which goes hand in hand with building a strong and innovative company culture.
Step four: Direction. Balance the creative with the strategic
You’re now onto the final step: Direction. This involves developing your final solution and implementing this so it becomes a reality. Once you have your golden, innovative ideas to hand, it’s vital to work on these strategically. Innovation not only requires creativity and imagination, but it needs to be balanced with a strategic plan of action in order for your ideas to be implemented effectively.
So, how do you put this into practice to actually get your team’s creative ideas off the ground? Your starting point should always be to define your objectives and put in place a structured project plan. Defining your objectives will help you to focus your bigger-picture goals into actions that you can work on. Once you have your strategies in place, you and your team can see a clear roadmap of work that needs to be completed to reach your end goal, turning your innovative ideas into something realistic and achievable.
Sometimes, you just have to take a chance
No matter what your field of work, you’re going to have many hits and misses along your journey. However, learning from your failures as well as your successes is an important and vital step in ensuring you make the right decisions towards your end goal. Any failure you experience is a learning opportunity to create better results in the future.
It’s common for many organizations and CEOs to want to work towards predictable outcomes, and put aside any ideas that take the company into unknown territory. There may be a reluctance to step outside of your comfort zone and take risks that you’re unsure will pay off. This is normal and understandable. The fear of the unknown and potential for errors can be nerve-wracking, however, being able to take that leap is a key driver in launching your innovative ideas.
Make sure you set your objectives, with a clear plan of action and steps you need to take. Striving to integrate innovation as part of your working life will always involve change, but taking these steps will stand you in good stead to make that all-important leap of faith and turn your innovative creations into reality.
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