Innovation. How many times have you heard this word in the past year? “Innovate” is thrown around meeting rooms and during conference calls—it’s a verb, a directive, a demand.
But do you know what it means? And more importantly, do you know what it takes to be innovative?
At the OPEN Forum: CEO BootCamp event in Chicago, Lisa Buckley and Jennifer Ebert, directors with ?What If! Innovation Partners, let the event’s nearly 500 attendees in on the formula they use to innovate for their firm’s many clients. Here are a few of their key tactics for your own innovation journey.
What is Innovation?
Have you ever been in a room filled with people who all want to create something better, yet no one has a shared definition of what “better” actually means? Beginning with a shared definition of innovation helps any company or brand in the relentless pursuit of better.
Innovation is the creation of value, both for your company and the people who interact with your team, products and services. It’s that simple. When you seek innovation, you’re creating a deeper value for the people who matter most: your audience.
To create that value, you must build an environment that fosters innovative thinking. For that, you'll need The Four “I”s.
The Four “I”s
What allows innovation to happen? According to ?What If!, it’s a combination of four elements:
IDENTIFY x INSIGHT x IDEAS x IMPACT = INNOVATION
And yes, it’s an equation. Buckley and Ebert note that if you have a zero in place of any of these four critical components, your sum is a big, fat zero as well.
First, you have to identify what demands innovation. Secondly, you have to be willing to gather the insights required to fuel your quest. Then, ideas have to flow—even the silly and uncensored. Finally, you have to decide on the impact you want to create.
Those four elements, when each executed beyond zero, are the beginning of innovation.
But before you can create an ideal environment for innovation, you need to know how to deal with roadblocks.
Roadblocks to Innovation
Look around your professional life. There’s that guy. You know, the one who always says, “That’s not the way we do things,” or, “We can’t do that.” He (or she) is super fun to have around, right?
Companies and brands seeking to innovate hit these kinds of roadblocks daily. Your job is to be able to identify these roadblocks and either move them out of your creative process or help them find a role in your innovation system.
According to the ?What If! team, behaviors are the number one roadblock to innovation, those that have become part of our core as people and as company cultures. To innovate, companies have to be able (and willing) to utilize two separate types of behaviors: expansive and reductive. And yes, even the Debbie Downers have a role here.
Expansive thinking is the kind we enjoyed as kids, where we came up with wild solutions to nonexistent problems and never let anything get in the way. Kids are great at using their imaginations, taking risks, challenging the status quo and bouncing right back when things don’t go as planned. Many of us have forgotten how powerful our minds and imaginations can be, whether it's been beat out of us by the naysayers or we’ve simply forgotten our childlike sides. For innovation’s sake, go find your inner kid.
Once you’ve let your inner kid run amok, it’s time for reductive thinking. Buckley and Ebert are quick to point out that not every half-baked idea deserves your resources. Some ideas inevitably shine brighter and become more interesting. Reductive thinking (aka your Debbie Downers) helps you filter through the pile of ideas your expansive thinking accumulates. That way, you can focus your resources on developing the best ones.
What are the best ones? Well, the ones that show the most promise for creating the impact and value you wish to bring to the market. As the directors of ?What If! pointed out during OPEN Forum: CEO BootCamp Chicago, innovation and leadership are just as much about saying no as they are about saying yes. Begin with your pile of yeses. Then, tell Debbie to come on inside and sit down. You need her “no” skills now.
But there’s one more thing that innovation requires—and not everyone has it.
Now you have a solid definition of innovation and the formula needed to give it a place to grow. You even know about the two types of behaviors most necessary for innovation to take shape and the roadblocks that keep it from happening.
But one question remains: Are you brave enough to pursue it?
According to the ?What If! team, innovation demands bravery. A willingness to take risks and propose and embrace bold, daring ideas. It also requires that you take ownership of your ideas and sell them. Modesty is the ruination of the seeds of innovation.
Bravery is also a culture that truly is top-down, and brave teams require brave leaders. Innovation rising from the ranks will rarely take hold if management isn’t willing to lead the charge. This means that companies on a quest to be innovative have to commit to hiring brave employees, from executives to management to day-to-day-level team members. Remember the old adage about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link? This holds true for innovation as well.
Yes, you might be scared. But check in with yourself. That might just be excitement taking hold and demanding you give your brave, innovative ideas a chance to thrive.
OPEN Forum: CEO BootCamp is designed to help women entrepreneurs reach their full potential as CEOs and grow their businesses. To learn more about OPEN Forum: CEO BootCamp live events, exclusive content and online networking communities visit openforum.com/ceobootcamp.