How You Can Learn To Innovate
The imperative to innovate is widely touted. Forbes recently declared innovation to be “crucial to your organization’s long-term success”, while Inc. has proclaimed it to be a 'differentiator' which “just might be the most important component of a successful company.” At the same time, questions abound over whether innovation is innate or if it can be taught and learned.
One popular line of thinking is that, while it is true that innovation comes more naturally to some people than to others, this does not mean that an innovative mindset can’t be cultivated and developed. If you are eager to embrace your own inner innovator, here are five things you can do.
1. Be curious.
Innovators aren’t content to kick back and accept the world around them at face value. Rather, they are always thinking about what can be done to make the world better.
In his book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner asserts the profound value of curiosity. Curiosity often involves questions such as 'how does it work?', 'Why has it not be done?' or 'What if?'. And the best innovators marry such curiosity with a deep dedication to finding the answers.
Which begs the question: what can you do to spur your own curiosity? Jeff Cobb explains in an article for Mission to Learn, “The tendency for curiosity to atrophy as we age is perhaps the reason why innovation becomes less common. So, be sure to keep asking questions, and maybe embrace the learning habits of your average toddler.”
2. Be comfortable standing alone.
Innovators don’t get where they are by going along with the crowd. They do it by bucking convention -- which sometimes means standing alone. Furthermore, the importance of allowing space for individual thinking cannot be overstated.
The Business Romantic author Tim Leberecht explains in Inc., “A team is usually faster than a single brain at solving a crossword puzzle. But if it comes to creating a crossword puzzle, the team will nearly always lose against a solo thinker.”
Leberecht's takeaway? Claiming time for personal “pause and reflection” can be a productivity booster when it comes to innovation.
3. Explore the unexpected.
Not all roads are direct. In fact, many amble along, taking detours and stops, until they end up at completely unexpected -- and wonderful -- destinations.
There's no better example than Steve Jobs. Website SuccessIsWhat highlights the role taking a calligraphy class played in helping the Apple visionary revolutionize digital typography. Because while “the democratization of digital type” may seem normal to us now, according to Thomas Phinney, a senior product manager for fonts and typography, it was a different story pre-Jobs. “The idea that the average person on the street might have a favorite font was a radical thing,” he told Digital Trends. And unless Jobs -- heralded today as “the godfather of fonts as we know them” -- had ventured out of coding class and into calligraphy class, who knows where we would be?
4. Identify -- and develop -- your areas of specialty.
As discussed above, innovation rarely takes place within a single area. Rather, it occurs at the intersection of different skills, technologies, and fields. Pyze co-founder Johns Chisholm asserts, “Innovation is not magic. Innovators take things they already know and combine them in new ways. In other words, you have everything you need to innovate!” The more ways you can intertwine these specialties, the more opportunities for innovation you will create.
Innovation experts dub this “associating”. “What the innovators have in common is that they can put together ideas and information in unique combinations that nobody else has quite put together before,” Insead’s Hal Gregersen told CNN.
Of course, you can’t know everything about everything, and areas for innovation will exist outside of your comfort zone. This is where networking comes in. The more diverse your network, the better positioned you will be to innovate.
“Data says that people who have more varied connections hear more diverse information, and see patterns before other people. [...] They are able to put together something they hear from a conference they were at least week with a briefing they are at tomorrow and come up with a new idea,” suggests business school lecturer in strategic management Marc Ventresca.
Ventresca recommends setting aside just a half an hour each week to talk to someone outside of your immediate circle. He asserts, “If you do that every week, that’s 52 conversations in a year taking up 26 hours of time. Say 10 of those yield something interesting, and two of those 10 let you do something new and valuable -- by investing just 26 hours a year you've come up with something pretty remarkable.”
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