Make Innovation a FACT

Lidor WyssockyBlog

Here are a few statements I find myself saying (or repeating) on a regular basis:

  • In your organization, anyone can be creative.
  • Creativity is not just for “creative” professions
  • Innovation can come from anywhere in your organization — not only from R&D
  • Innovation should run in the organization’s bloodstream.

I 100% believe in each of these statements, but I must admit that they are sometimes misinterpreted. It is not rare for people to make a mistake thinking that to be an innovative organization, everyone in every department and domain must be creative and innovative. Such an interpretation can result in global campaigns about the importance of innovation and the bliss of creativity, and right after that maybe some KPIs and targets, and eventually some difficult annual reviews about performance gaps in these areas.

Can any organization really be innovative 100% of the time? Is there any organization in which all people are actively creative all the time? Are these expectations realistic or even measurable?

I’d like to propose a more down-to-earth view, which is not necessarily easier to achieve. In some organizational cultures, it might be even harder to follow. And yet, it is based on a healthier and more balanced approach. With this approach, you can start making innovation a FACT in your organization. Let’s start with ‘F.’

[Accepting] Failure

To be a truly innovative organization, everyone in the organization must know they are allowed to fail. Failure is part of the game in any ongoing innovation effort. Of course, we aim for some successes, otherwise, why bother. But if we don’t truly embrace failure as part of the process, we will never be able to innovate.

Your team must know in advance that they can fail and that would be perfectly fine. Otherwise, there’s no sense in taking any risk. Sending this message is not trivial, but you should use any opportunity that comes across to show in practice how celebrating failure looks like. And this is not an accidental choice of words. Avoiding negative consequences when someone fails is essential. But celebrating the daring — taking the risk with a new idea or approach — is what people will remember and take note of.

[Showing] Appreciation

If you are going to play the innovation game, you must be convinced it is essential for the future of your company. And if this is the case, your appreciation of anyone joining this ride must be unconditional.Click To Tweet

It may sound like the other side of accepting failure, but showing appreciation really stands by itself. If you wish your organization to be innovative, people must know creativity and innovation are appreciated. Sounds trivial again? Think about it: when given a choice, will managers in your organization appreciate their staff doing “more of the same” or daring and taking risks? It’s not just a matter of accepting the possible failure. Will your organization appreciate a non-trivial daring choice even if it succeeds?

If you are going to play the innovation game, you must be convinced it is essential for the future of your company. And if this is the case, your appreciation of anyone joining this ride must be unconditional.

Does that mean that everyone in your company should be daring all the time? Does that mean no one can do things the same way they did last week or last year? Absolutely not. No organization can take risks 24/7 while avoiding repetition of things that already succeeded. The point is, that when someone in your team feels taking a new approach is essential, they would know they will be appreciated for that. Nothing can replace common sense and good judgment. What we aim for is avoiding mental push-backs when innovative action is required.

[Cultivating] Confidence

Next one is even more challenging. Not everyone in your company should be innovative 365 days a year. Chances are most of the tasks people are dealing with don’t call for creative problem solving or innovative solutions. But when someone eventually faces a real challenge, they must have confidence in their creative skills — they must know they are creative and that they can withstand the challenge and turn it into an opportunity.

When someone eventually faces a real challenge, they must have confidence in their creative skillsClick To Tweet

Many (maybe most) people think they are not creative. Most people are not aware of their ability to come up with non-trivial solutions to problems they face. And when your team does not believe they can do it, no appreciation or embracing failure will do the trick.

The good news is that if you create opportunities for people to experience their creativity, there’s a good chance they will get the message and start acknowledging their abilities. The best way to do that is in a way that is fun and natural (as opposed to a real crisis that the team must overcome). Imagine starting each day with a fun, creative challenge you shared with the team. Don’t turn it into a competition and don’t use challenges in which you have to find “the right answer.”

You can use for example the Billboard Gear with a random seempli Seed.

It may look strange at first, but when it becomes a habit — this strange ritual you and your team are sharing on a daily basis — people are bound to realize they can come up with some surprisingly creative results. The idea that “I am a creative person” is the confidence we are looking for.

When your team eventually faces a real-world challenge, they will already know they have the skills to look at it differently and turn it into an opportunity. Will that make the problem trivial? Not really. But instead of seeing it as a threat, they will experience it as a game. And this playful mindset together with their confidence might just be the what it takes to overcome the challenge.

[Providing the Right] Tools

Last but not least, if you want to innovate on a regular basis, you need some tools. I don’t want to talk about fancy tools at the enterprise level, although they are sometimes required and can have a positive impact on results. Let’s focus on more basic tools. For example, what tools do you provide your team to develop and improve their creative skills? Creativity is the fuel of innovation. Expecting the latter without investing in the first does not make sense.

Another area where tools might be required relates to the way ideas are captured, discussed and analyzed. Do you have a formal method to manage the pool of ideas you are expecting your team to deliver?

Having the right tools may sound like a second priority aspect to address. But if you expect people to deliver something they will soon ask how they are supposed to do that. Being ready with a minimal set of tools to start with can make a huge difference. And they don’t have to be fancy tools at first. Let’s say your team is already working with Evernote. Defining a shared notebook or space as a place to capture and discuss ideas or creative solutions is easy to do. On the other hand, failing to provide such a platform for managing ideas might send a double message to your team: be innovative, but we don’t really know what to do with your great insights.

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If you want innovation to become a fact in your organization, you need to start with the FACT: Accepting Failure, Showing Appreciation, Cultivating Confidence, and Providing the Right Tools. Will doing that make your entire team innovative 24/7? Absolutely not. However, it will set the ground for creativity and innovation to flourish. These are the fertilizers that enable growth. There will be many more challenges and hurdles along the way. But setting a good starting point is essential to growing the innovative power of your team.