Earlier this month, I attended a client meeting to discuss the best way to approach a new request coming from their organization. For a number of reasons, the request did not fit into the existing framework of our relationship, so it required us all to be innovative in order to determine the best way to serve their need.
I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the request and how we could best meet it. I also dialogued with several folks on our team to discuss a few ideas. When the meeting started, I already had what I thought were two good paths forward to serve the client.
Within a few minutes of me sharing my ideas at the meeting, one of our client partners suggested a third option. It was immediately apparent that the third option was the best path forward and we decided to proceed.
The meeting was successful and I was reminded how difficult it is to be innovative when you’ve been doing something one way for awhile. I was both grateful for our client’s idea and wondered why we hadn’t thought of it already.
Most of us work in environments where innovation is essential to stay competitive and relevant in a fast-changing world. Here are four useful practices we can all do that will help us be substantially more innovative:
1. Dialogue With People In Other Fields
The prevailing wisdom in most professions is that someone from another field couldn’t possibly offer valuable insight to address a current problem.
While there are certainly times that proprietary restrictions prevent this, I’ve often found that getting insight from someone who comes from a different discipline can provide just the insight I need to look at a problem differently (exactly what happened in my example above).
While it’s true that I’ve rarely used the exact suggestion someone from another field gives, it’s also true that the completely new perspective often starts me thinking about solutions I would have never considered before the conversation.
2. Read – A Lot
A continual source of new ideas for many of the innovative people I know is in their reading. I can’t think of a regular activity that provides a better return on investment for new ideas than picking up a good book or reading quality articles. Even reading that is seemingly unrelated to your work can provide the new insights I described above.
Two years ago, we implemented an idea I saw in a New York Times article with a client that resulted in measurable more business the following year. I happened across the article merely by chance and it changed the way we approached an entire part of our business.
I’ve kept track of my book reading for some time at GoodReads.com and I archive valuable articles on my Pinboard account for future use and reference for others. I just registered for an Audible.com account so I can listen to audiobooks on the go.
3. Talk To The Dissenters
Anytime a new innovation is considered, there is always at least one person with that off-the-wall concept that would never seemingly work. Before dismissing their contribution, take time to discover how they came to the conclusion they did and whether there may be an element of the idea that could be of value to the dialogue.
Even though the idea itself may be dismissed, the dialogue might spur new thoughts. Plus, when others see you taking the time to listen to the dissenters, they are more likely to contribute their own ideas too.
4. Listen To Young People
Almost every organization I’ve worked with has espoused a commitment to engage the next generation of employees. However, in practice, I’ve observed that a lot of organizations only fully engage younger employees when the risk level is fairly low or the project doesn’t have a lot of visibility.
On important initiatives and projects, the unspoken message is often, “Leave it to the experienced folks.”
By no means should we hand over every critical project to younger, less experienced professionals – be we also shouldn’t be so fast to dismiss their contributions either. Often, fantastic ideas come from those who know the context of the discipline, but aren’t locked into how it’s been done for the past 20 years. The perspective of younger people in your organization may lead your team to the golden idea that you use for the next 20 years.
[reminder]In addition to these four practices, what have you found to be successful in your drive for innovation?[/reminder]