Many people know that innovation is the key to success in the current and future business world, even if they do not know how to be innovative. Given the pandemic gripping the world, innovation is more important now than ever before. Unfortunately, at the very time that innovation is so needed, it may be harder for innovation to be stimulated. While innovation is required for many businesses to even survive, too many people are simply doing the same things in a slightly different way, expecting dramatic positive results. Innovation is different than that. Innovation is not “Thinking Outside of the Box.” Just think about that. How long have you heard that phrase, “Thinking Outside of the Box?” Likely, for many years. Now, how innovative is that?! Not very. Is “Thinking Outside the Triangle” more innovative than “Thinking Outside of the Box”? Probably. That is just a very simple example of the fact that we are not really focused on innovation, even when we think we are.
What is required for innovation to occur? First of all, we must think differently before we can do differently. If we can’t think differently, we will not be able to do differently. How do we think differently? We have to be open to new ideas. One way to train ourselves to think and do differently is to change the order of things we do regularly, such as when we brush our teeth, and in what order we floss and brush our teeth. There is no right or wrong way to do most of the things we do regularly, but we get locked into patterns without even thinking about their order. When we change this, we have an uncomfortable feeling. Try it, and you will experience the discomfort. By changing the order of some things that we do automatically, we are training ourselves to think and do differently. This practice prepares us for bigger and more important changes and can improve our ability to be innovative.
Another behavior that can help us to think and do differently is to think more analytically and challenge our own assumptions. While all of us have biases, some are better able than others to challenge their own assumptions. This includes turning our thinking inside out. A simple exercise illustrates this. I might think, “Women are more nurturing than men.” To turn that thinking inside out I can change that to, “Men are more nurturing than women.” Some reading this would not agree with the second statement. Even so, does that mean they must agree with the first statement? No. The two statements are not mutually exclusive. How can this be? By altering the statement, we may find something that most people will agree with regarding the nurturing abilities of women and men. For example, “Many women are more nurturing than many men.” True? Possibly, or maybe even probably. We can also even say that, “Some men are more nurturing than many women,” and that is likely true. If we were to say, however, “Many men are more nurturing than most women,” we would find many women and men who could disagree with us. So, have we thought more analytically and challenged our assumptions? Most likely.
Becoming more innovative also requires that we become more flexible. If we are always doing the same things in the same way, we will only have what we have always had. If I only spend time with the people I know best and am most comfortable with, how will I ever expand my experience with and benefit from the strengths of those who are different?
Back to the pandemic for a moment. Many businesses have suffered immensely, some not surviving. At the same time with the same set of circumstances, the pandemic has resulted in new businesses and new revenue streams for other businesses. Think of the businesses now making masks. Also, some restaurants that were previously only dine-in now have a thriving take-out business. The failure of some businesses to change themselves as our world has changed has resulted in the demise of too many businesses. The ability of some businesses to adapt and become innovative has created dynamic new services and revenue streams.
One does not decide to become more innovative and it immediately happens. It does not happen by just thinking differently, or even by doing differently. Becoming different requires vision, commitment, practice, and even patience. There are often missteps along the way. If the vision is clear however, and if the commitment is solid, then innovation can and will occur.
Do not allow yourself, your company, or your organization to be boxed in. THINK OUTSIDE THE TRIANGLE!