We are certainly in an unprecedented time that calls for unprecedented action. Many people feel innovation is the realm of IT or product marketing. This is simply not the case. Innovation is simply executing an idea that adds value for the company and the customer. Everyone is capable of innovating new products, processes or programs that add value, if the right conditions exist. Here are some tips you as a leader can apply immediately to innovate in this trying time.
First, seek to increase the cognitive diversity of your decision making by including as many diverse perspectives (how people encode problems) and heuristics (how people address problems) as possible. This can be accomplished by not only by reaching across the different functions of your organization, but also different levels. A front-line employee will see the world much differently than a leader and will most likely have more empathy for the issues facing your customers.
Second, practice the art of asking provocative questions. These are questions designed to bridge the gap between what is, and what’s possible. Approach problems with a beginner’s mind by asking WHY questions like, “Why do we do it that way?” WHAT IF questions are designed to pique curiosity and delay rationality/practicality, for a moment, to open up new possibilities by challenging long held assumptions. An example would be, “What if the customer experience was more important than profits?” The most important thing is to actively listen to the responses and dig in to find opportunities.
Finally, work to enhance the culture of innovation within your organization by encouraging ideas. Nothing kills the spirit of innovation faster than immediately judging the merits of a new idea before it’s fully understood. Your first reaction to a new idea that initially sounds radical should be, “That’s interesting, tell me more.” Try listening to the idea while suspending judgement and your own assumptions until you have all the facts. If it’s an idea that simply isn’t practical, thank the employee for their idea, help them understand why you feel it wouldn’t work, and encourage them to keep thinking. You’ll find the more you encourage ideas, the more likely it is the next one will be a game changer.
There is no question that today’s environment has taught us all a little humility. On the bright side, humility is an essential element of innovation. Recognition that you as a leader don’t have to have all the good ideas, opens you up to the collective creativity and knowledge of the group. It just might help your organization come out of this difficult time even stronger.