Part of Our Innovation Series — Series #2
Our world has changed. Things are different now. We all need to be innovators to some degree, challenging the past based on our new reality, and finding ways to improve our personal and professional lives as we move forward.
Get Your Head in the Game: Develop an Innovator’s Mindset
Innovating can be scary and challenging! While many people thing about innovation as getting wildly creative, it’s much more (and less) than that. It’s about discovering, designing and implementing creative solutions that solve a problem, meet a need or fill a gap (Scott & Sarikas, 2021). True innovations, both small and large, create value.
Like many challenges we face in our lives, there are risks involved. Innovation, therefore, requires a different way of thinking that goes beyond creativity to include a whole new mindset. A mindset is a mental attitude that determines how we perceive, interpret and respond to the situations around us. Our mindset can determine if we see the world through rose-colored glasses, or through shades of darkness. It influences how we view uncomfortable situations and setbacks — as growth opportunities or threats, learning opportunities or something to be avoided at all costs. Our mindset is important because it impacts our every-day attitudes and behaviors.
An innovator’s mindset starts with the belief that they can develop and strengthen their own skills and abilities through an investment of time and energy. Innovators, from novice to expert, know that missteps and failures occur. Rather than give in to feelings of anxiety and despair, they are able to stay engaged and persevere through the setbacks. An innovator’s mindset is one that is able to stay curious, intrigued by the challenge, and learn from the failures and successes along the way.
And while we are all afraid of vulnerability to some extent, an innovator is able to round up enough courage to overcome the fear enough to move forward. Let’s be honest — there are reasons to approach innovation with some trepidation. No one wants to lose or get hurt. No one wants to be perceived as that person who tried and failed. But is playing it safe really a better alternative? Continuing with the status quo is often more debilitating than trying something new. It can suck the energy right out of you. There’s nothing like the thrill of a new possibility to get your adrenaline flowing.
Let’s think about this from a personal perspective in every-day life. Your children are struggling with Zoom-school, frustrated and disengaged. Learning is at an all-time low! Instead of just accepting that you’re not the teacher and your kids are doing the best they can, albeit zoned out in front of their computer screen, you decide to try something new. You take the lesson they are learning, and get together with a group of parents to develop a fun math game to help convey the principles of the lesson. Everyone is involved. Parents get a break from the mundane, kids are energized, relationships strengthened, and learning actually occurs! You find yourself looking forward to the group sessions each day, and yes, so do the kids. And who knows, maybe one of these newly energized kids will figure out a way to digitize and monetize the math game in the future. All in all, the effort and risks related to getting the group going have paid off in spades. That’s what we’re talking about!
As you contemplate stepping out there, consider the following traits and attitudes to work on to get your head in the game:
- Give up the perception of perfection. Innovation means you will be wrong sometimes. Plan to experiment and plan to fail. When failing, fail fast, learn and keep going. This is about grit and resilience, your ability to emotionally overcome imperfection or failure.
- Connect with people not like you. Diversify your social networks and connect to people you normally wouldn’t. Listen to their opinions, open up and connect. This is about your social capital and your ability to overcome social barriers.
- Collaborate. Innovation is not a solo sport. Your chances of success are much greater when you are able to work and collaborate with others. This is about your ability to partner with others, even former competitors, to achieve something of value. When in doubt — think #SuitUpForTheTeam.
- Believe in yourself. Believe you can make a difference, add value, be successful. No more self-sabotaging. This is about your confidence in yourself to be successful even in the midst of ambiguity and setbacks. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you along the way.
Developing Innovation Courage and Credibility in the Workplace
You know that person who is always bringing up problems but offers no solutions, or the person who raises their hand to help out but brings nothing new to the table? Or what about the person who starts in with great enthusiasm but fades quickly when the going gets tough? Don’t let that be you!
Creativity and thinking outside the box to generate new ideas is important. But putting these ideas into action is greatly dependent on your courage and credibility. It takes courage to call out a problem or opportunity, identify a potential solution, address a sacred cow, expose a deviant practice all while risking mis-steps and failures. And it takes personal credibility to gain the confidence of others so that they are willing to collaborate and come along beside you, investing their time, energy and resources.
Here are a few tips to strengthen your courage and credibility before jumping into an innovation project:
- Establish yourself as someone others can trust. Be that person others can count on, delivering on your promises (aka — TRUST = INFLUENCE).
- Show your manager or supervisor your potential in your work. Deliver quality in your every-day activities. Complete projects on time. Come to meetings prepared. Be a student of “best practices.”
- Build your relationships! Get to know people throughout the organization, people with diverse views, skills and roles. Be thoughtful and courteous. Genuinely give credit to others for their contributions.
- Learn to clearly define a problem or opportunity. Use clear descriptions, metrics, pictures, diagrams, etc. Avoid vagaries and words such as “always” and “never.”
- When you bring up a problem, include a thoughtful solution or next step toward resolving the issue.
- Get more comfortable with trying new things and the messiness of learning — two steps forward, one step back. We’ve all had these moments — let’s not fear them anymore. Consider learning a new technology or musical instrument, trying a new adventure, creating a new recipe for family or friends. Feel the vulnerability of being a novice and get more comfortable with that. In other words, be comfortable with being uncomfortable!
Through consistency with these activities, you will grow your courage, influence and credibility as a problem solver and innovator that can be trusted. YOU CAN DO IT!
Dear Optimist, Pessimist and Realist —
While you were arguing about the glass of water, I drank it!
~ Author Unknown
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Scott, K. & Sarikas, B. (2021, February 13). Innovation Series — Humpty Dumpty’s Great Fall [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.l3fusion.com/post/innovation-series-1
Scott, K., Sarikas, B. & Bessler, C. (2020). Stupid Gone Viral — When Science and Reality Collide.