For many leaders, coming up with innovative ideas seems like one of the Great Mysteries for which only a few initiates hold the secrets to understanding. And often their instinct is to look for external resources for help. While sometimes some external guidance is helpful, the reality is that generating innovative ideas, solutions and strategies isn’t as complicated as most imagine. In fact, I would hazard a guess that there is a wealth of innovation waiting to be unleashed among your own team. All you need to provide them is a little encouragement, some context, and the right tools, and then turn them loose on your most pressing business or organizational challenges.
“You can do it!”
Leaders know the power their words carry with their teams, and a few well-timed boosts to confidence will make a world of difference as your team ventures into new, innovative territory. I highly recommend that every team member get engaged in the process, no matter how “creative” they may appear – or not – in their usual roles within the organization. The most linear-thinking engineer might not perceive herself as creative, but given the opportunity to work within a group tasked to develop innovations, she may discover strengths she didn’t know she had. At the very least, her unique perspective can add to the group dynamic.
Context = Meaning
Give your team as much context as possible before they set off on an innovation adventure. Give them the “what” and the “why” behind the challenge they are working on with as much detail and contextual richness possible. A thorough project brief is a great document to use, if you have one. The more they understand the challenge at hand, the more they’ll see the significance innovation can play in the solution and the more bought in they will be in creating effective outcomes.
A Different Kind of Toolbox
As a Certified Innovation Leader, my toolbox is not a folder on a server filled with briefs, process maps and other tools of business. Rather, my toolbox is quite literally a plastic box filled with the tools of innovation: Post-It Notes, markers, magnets, scissors, tape, glue, plain white paper and pencils. (My kids “borrow” it. A lot.) It sounds a little crazy, I know, but those unassuming office and art supplies can turn a few ideas being bandied about into a full-scale idea-storm session. The rapid-fire posting of ideas – one per note, the liveliness of capturing ideas and grouping them by color, and the instinct of humans to communicate visually combine to flame the fires of innovative thinking, exploration, prototyping and generative collaboration that can yield reams of ideas, possibilities and potential solutions that beg for further, more deliberate consideration after the fire has died down.
In our pursuit of innovative ideas, it’s natural for leaders like ourselves to assume that we must turn to others outside of our organizations to tap into true innovation. After all, how often have we heard the platitudes about the benefits of “fresh eyes”? While there is something to be said for introducing a fresh perspective, there is also a great deal to be said for experience and an intimate understanding of one’s organization. So, my challenge to you is this: When you need to innovate, start with your own team first and give them encouragement, context and the right tools. You may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.