Innovating on purpose

December 19th 2017

We all know innovation is important, and that the pace of change is now so rapid that if we keep doing things the same way we will soon get left behind. Often we have good intentions about innovation. We say to ourselves, ‘Yes! I will spend more time thinking about how to improve my business.’

And yet it doesn’t happen.

I’m going to run through 6 of the biggest barriers to innovation, and share some strategies to overcome each one.

1. “I Don’t Have Time”

You want to spend more time identifying opportunities for innovation in your business and working out how to take advantage of them, but you’re swamped by the day to day busyness of meetings, phone calls, emails and everything else. You want to spend time getting ready for tomorrow, but you’re swamped by today.

Why not commit to spending 98% of your time on today, and 2% of it on tomorrow. 2% is about 10 minutes a day. Spend those 10 minutes thinking about how to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities. Put a 10 minutes block in your diary every day and make it a habit. It doesn’t have to be at the same time, but it does need to be at a time when you’re not exhausted. During those 10 minutes try to identify the things in your business that aren’t working perfectly, and think of new ideas to help you do them better.

2. ‘I’m not innovative.’

Yes, you are. Maybe you are out of practice at coming up with new ideas, but that doesn’t mean you are incapable of it. When you were a kid you made up new games all the time. That was your job. You don’t have to be a genius to be innovative. Try going through this process;

  • Look for things in your business that aren’t perfect. (a system, your marketing, your management style, your sales pitch, etc)
  • Write one of those things at the top of a blank page and think about how to make it better.
  • Once you have an idea, work out what you need to do next to grow the idea.
  • Do that thing.
  • Repeat steps 4 and 5 until either you’re ready to trial your idea, or you realise it won’t work.
  • Trial the idea on a small scale.
  • Assess results, get feedback and make improvements.
  • Repeat steps 7 and 8 until the idea is ready to either implement or throw away.

3. Habitual thinking

If we go to the same workplace and do variations of the same tasks every day, it’s easy to stop questioning and take things for granted. We get into habits, the status quo over-prioritises itself, and it becomes hard to think that there might be a different, better way. ‘Why do you do it this way?’ ‘Because that’s the way we do it.’

To be innovative we need to keep challenging ourselves to break out of habitual thinking by;

  • questioning everything we do and asking, ‘is it possible there might be a better way?’
  • identifying and challenging the assumptions we are making about how our business works and what our customers want.
  • thinking like a customer. Putting ourselves in their shoes and asking what we can do to improve their experience.

4. Innovation is too hard.

It’s meant to be hard. No innovator I’ve met or read about has identified a problem and then 5 minutes later jumped to their feet and yelled ‘I’ve got it!’ It takes time. Often people try to solve a problem and when the answer doesn’t immediately come to them, think; ‘See. I knew I wasn’t innovative.’ If you are trying to solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity and you feel stupid, frustrated and bored, that means you are doing it right. Persist and you will have an idea.

5. Fear of failure

To be innovative you need to review your relationship with failure. Failure isn’t a disaster. It’s a necessary part of the innovation process. No one only has good ideas. Usually, most of our ideas won’t end up making a positive change to our business. But the only way to find the good ideas is to have lots of ideas, grow them and to see which ones work.

When you have ideas, advance each one a small, cheap step forward. When you discover flaws you didn’t anticipate, or that the idea is going to cost more money to implement than it saves, learn what you can from the failure and say goodbye to that idea. That’s fine, because it means you are one step closer to the good idea that will make or save you money.

6. I can’t do it on my own.

You don’t have to. Involve everyone in your organisation. Make it clear to everyone that part of their job is to think of ways of doing things better. Make it easy for people to share ideas. Design a simple system for capturing the ideas of staff, assessing them, growing them, finding the best ones and implementing them.

These 6 barriers to innovation aren’t actually barriers at all. They are just obstacles, and each one can be overcome.

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