While participating in the Red Herring 100 startup conference, I was reminded of some of the innovation practices I’ve found most useful over the years. Like meditation, innovation is a lifelong pursuit not mastered overnight. It is both purposeful and it has flow. To me, it is the very essence of being human. I’d love to hear how you foster innovation in your work at organizations big and small.
Get out of your swim lane. In fact, get out of the whole darn pool.
We all suffer from information overload just trying to stay expert in our areas of expertise. At most, we go down the hyperlink rabbit hole which is a tangential path. It’s time to go somewhere completely different.
At the conference, a medical imaging startup’s pitch made me see new ways we can visual our clients’ data. This week, ask a kid for a YouTube series recommendation, go to an event outside your usual comfort zone, visit an art exhibit, or talk with someone at work who is in a different department than those you normally interact with to spur new solutions to the challenges that lie ahead. If you want to be more strategic, think about the type of problem you are having and talk to someone who has solved something similar in a totally different industry. A company I know talked to a marriage counselor for insights about relationships in order to create an innovative customer loyalty program.
Change your routine.
I love this one because it is so easy to do. We know our brains like to conserve work by going on “autopilot” whenever possible, shutting down active brain time and potential insights. At the same time, the feeling of surprise has been proven to be a very powerful emotion which amplifies feelings and memory. And it is hard to be surprised when you aren’t paying attention. Changing up your routine can also help you get out of your swimlane. It is really about giving yourself a neurological “wake up call.” So ask someone else to program the song on your alarm, take a different route to work or venture into a new cuisine for dinner. Offices like ours which eschew assigned desks foster active brains because employees sit in different places with different views and different neighbors each day.
Ask questions and listen. And listen some more.
Innovation gurus say you should collaborate with a diverse group of people to develop more creative and successful solutions. This sounds good but it is really hard to do. It is hard to collaborate with any group of humans at a truly meaningful level; we aren’t talking about coordinating or refining (or even better: trying to convince everyone to get on board with your idea) but actually creating something new which you didn’t conceive of before you entered the room. It takes time to build relationships, to establish trust and to understand what each other is trying to communicate. Throw in the mix different professional backgrounds, cultures and languages and you’ve just doubled or tripled the project timeline. There is no shortcut. The more you actively listen and ask questions and listen some more, the more successful the collaboration will be.
Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.
Innovators never die, they just iterate on their state of being. This is probably the most universal practice for all successful start-ups. They never stop putting the product out in the hands of users and then making it better. And getting up tomorrow to do it again. They are maniacal about seeing the data and acting on it. I met a UX designer who worked on a consumer game where they released 4 versions of the app 8- 10 times a day. That’s a rapid learning curve. Even in B2B, the days of the mega annual release are long gone. As a 100% B2B cloud company constantly engaged with clients, we have a new release every month.
Aimee Stone Munsell
Aimee Stone Munsell is the Chief Marketing Officer of PeopleDoc. Aimee is passionate about creating customer experiences that motivate business leaders to make the most of our digital world for themselves, their teams and their organizations.
She has worked on Madison Avenue, run her own non-profit, and grown markets for Fortune100 companies. Throughout her career, she has enjoyed the benefits and surprises that come from managing teams of 5 to 50 around the world.