How to Ignite Innovation
Innovation is one subject that each and every one of us should study because its powerful force is available to us if we know how to tap it.
It’s no surprise that Tamara Ghandour’s book interested me because I read all I can about innovation and creativity. Innovation is Everybody’s Business: how to ignite, scale and sustain innovation is written in a way that applies to everyone. Her company, LaunchStreet, works with teams to unlock the power of innovation and gain a competitive edge.
I will quote from the introduction of the book because she articulates why innovation is important to everybody succinctly and powerfully:
All of us are capable of and responsible for innovation. Whether you run a solo business out of your home, are the night receptionist at a hotel, or are president of the company, innovation is your competitive advantage. Innovation comes from everyone and everywhere; those who think otherwise are myopic and destined to fail.
Do you want to be ‘destined to fail’? Of course not….so read on.
Everyone is Innovative
Some people say they are not innovative, and you explain that everyone is. Why do people feel this way? In what ways can we all become more innovative?
I’ll never forget my petite boss with a love of hierarchy who shut me down mid-sentence when I eagerly brought up an innovative idea at our team meeting. I didn’t speak up for another 6 months. Whether it’s through education, our jobs, our bosses—when we are told we aren’t the innovative ones, felt the negative consequences of innovating or simply been handcuffed by the constraints of a system that doesn’t foster innovation—it’s easy to see why most of us lack the belief that innovation is a skill we possess. We’ve been gently or even been loudly told we aren’t the innovative ones, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is that all of us have the ability to innovate, but most of us have been trained out of either believing we are the “innovative ones” or we’ve been conditioned to suppress the incredible strength inside of us.
To be more innovative you simply need to unlearn the myths that innovation is for certain people and certain times, and learn how to tap the natural unlimited resource of innovation in your mind. Being more innovative is as easy as understanding your natural innovative strengths and then intentionally acting on it daily.
In your book, you discuss an Everyday Innovator Style. What is this and how can you unlock it?
I used to believe that being innovative was for the select few. That innovation was either a rare gift you were born with, or not. I believed that your brain was segmented – one side was creative and the other logical.
But my 25 years of work and research, delving into the neuroscience, behavioral psychology, and my experiences, blew those assumptions out the door. What I came to discover is that being innovative is universal, we are all capable of it. However, how we innovate is unique to each of us.
What my research discovered is that there are nine triggers, or ways that we as humans innovate. I call them triggers because they activate the innovation structures in our minds. We all have a unique combination of two power triggers – natural innovative strengths that are a wellspring of innovative thinking, and a dormant trigger – the way we innovate the least – that come together to create each person’s unique Everyday Innovator Style.
Like your thumbprint, no two brains are wired the same. That means that your Everyday Innovator style is a totally unique power that you own.
Each person’s Everyday Innovator style is their greatest competitive advantage. It’s how you perform at your peak, find innovative solutions to your greatest challenges, have a stronger more valued voice and adapt and pivot.
Today we are facing unprecedented change and pressure from the economic impact of COVID-19. Why is innovation more important than ever?
For many, COVID-19 life feels like living in a rip tide of uncertainty. In a rip tide, our natural inclination is to double down, do more of what we know how to do, swim harder. But doubling down not only doesn’t help you keep your head above water, it pulls you further away from the shore. In order to get out of a rip tide, you have to fight your natural inclination to just swim harder and you have to swim sideways. When you swim sideways you exit the rip tide quickly.
This rip tide is COVID – 19 life. Our natural inclination is to be more productive, keep our heads down, work harder. However, to keep our heads above water, even thrive, we need to shift our efforts from working harder to working smarter. We need to shift from being productive to being innovative. That’s how we discover our new paths to success.
The reality of the situation is that this massive upheaval hit us hard and fast. It’s like we went to bed with one mental model of how the world works and woke up to another.
In the past you’d hear business leaders say things like “innovate or die” or “disrupt or be disrupted.” And while it was true, we had the gift of time on our hands, the safety net of success keeping us from pivoting and adapting. Now, that gift, that safety net, is gone. The world isn’t changing, it has already changed. We won’t be going back to “yesterday’s normal.”
If you stand still, double down on what worked yesterday or wait it out, you’ll find yourself irrelevant really quickly. Innovation is what allows you to think differently, find innovative solutions to your challenges. Innovation is the key to pivoting and adapting. Innovation is what allows you to find new relevancy, unearth new opportunities and thrive.
Would you share an example of an organization that faced incredible pressure and, through innovation, started to win?
One of my favorite examples of innovation is the restaurant Red Robin. Like most in the restaurant business, they were facing incredible pressures both internally and externally. Internally they were dealing with changes in staffing, minimum wage laws, shifts in retention in the industry. Externally they were facing the pressures of a completely changing marketplace. They were being squeezed on both sides by the competition, the change in customer behaviors and expectations and the rise of Uber Eats that minimized the need to go to a brick and mortar restaurant. What’s fascinating about their story isn’t that the leadership team just sat back and conjured up innovation. They gathered the operators from across the US, challenged them to be change leaders and then paved the way for innovation to bubble up throughout the company, not just at HQ. Doing so allowed them to adapt and innovate, in the restaurants, where the business truly lives and interacts with customers daily. It’s because Red Robin chose to tap the power of the innovative minds that I think they’ll continue to lead in their industry, even through times like this.
How can we encourage this type of innovation in an entire team?
Encouraging innovation in your team isn’t about giving them the latest or greatest process to follow or about suddenly launching a new innovation initiative. All that does is lead to initiative fatigue and a wait-it-out mentality. Process-first innovation fails, people-first innovation wins. If you want to elevate your team to a group of high-performing innovators, the first step is to help them recognize how they innovate, where they add value and why their contributions are so important. Innovation isn’t about fitting everyone into one process, it’s about tapping the power of diversity on the team. It’s solving real world challenges by tapping the power of the innovative minds inside your four walls, not looking outside for innovation.
The best leaders of innovation focus on one key thing, tapping the power of the diversity of thinking on their teams. They recognize and encourage the high-performers that make up their teams to bring their unique strengths and voice to the table, every day. As I talk about in my book, the boss that taught me this lesson was Alpa Pandya. Unlike bosses of the past that tried to mold us to their style of innovation or push us all into the same box, Alpa understood that a truly high-performing team wasn’t a compilation of like-minded people, but a diverse set of individuals. She encourages us to think differently, debate each other. Most importantly she taught us to bring out our best and leverage the best in others.
If an organization experiences some success through innovation, are there ways to sustain it?
Leaders of true cultures of innovation recognize that to build innovation you must reward behaviors, not outcomes. The mistake most leaders make is focusing on the outcomes – the successes and failures – but that actually squelches innovation. It’s like playing Russian roulette. Instead, rewarding the right behaviors ensures innovation – challenging assumptions, collaborating, giving feedback, even disagreeing with the team. I dig deeper into the range of behaviors in my book. What’s most important here is that rewarding the behaviors you seek drives more of those behaviors. It doesn’t happen magically; it happens through intentional and even systematic rewarding of behaviors. Then the outcomes you seek will follow.
For more information, see Innovation is Everybody’s Business: how to ignite, scale and sustain innovation.