No doubt about it, innovation is the buzzword of the decade, maybe the century. From Amazon to Zappos, innovation abounds and companies strive to emulate, replicate, and instigate it. The latest, disturbing trend is the Department of Innovation and the inevitable VP of Innovation. There are 7628 listings on Indeed.com that include the word “innovation” in the title or job description. Likewise, Linkedin.com.
“We need it. We don’t know what it is, but we gotta have it so let’s put somebody in charge of it.” I’ve heard it more times than I can count and I am convinced this may be the absolute fastest way to go out of business. An entire company will sit around waiting for the “VP of I” to hand down insights and revelations. Not even Steve Jobs could handle that kind of pressure. The greatest, most innovative companies are not led by “innovators”. They are led by people who inspire innovation while demanding excellence and focus.
Innovation doesn’t come from a department, and rarely does it spring from a single person. It comes from a commitment to problem-solving. Companies that are committed to solving their customers’ problems always find ways to innovate, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose. The point is, they are always looking for opportunities to innovate. 3M and Proctor & Gamble rarely make the headlines, but they get it, and that’s why they’ve excelled as long as they have.
So, don’t tell your team that you’ve decided to become an innovation organization. Instead, get everyone to start identifying and solving customer problems all the time. Create a culture of innovation. (Just don’t call it that.) The ideas will flow, the solutions will come, and your customers will recognize and reward the effort.
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If you want to start a revolution at your next staff meeting, grab a marker, stand up, and announce, “Okay everyone, we’re going to be innovative today. We’re getting outside the box and we’re gonna do some brainstorming for the next hour!” In their minds, your team members will be grabbing pitchforks, throwing darts, rolling their eyes, and wishing they were in a dentist’s chair rather than your conference room.
Last time, we reviewed how, when I built a wooden kayak, I realized that building a boat and building a brand have a lot in common. You have to have vision, plans, patience, control, and it really helps to be innovative while you’re at it. There are other similarities and there was ONE big one that surprised me.
I’ve been building brands for over 35 years. Last year I did something new. I built a boat. A Chesapeake 17 Sea Kayak by #CLCBoats, made of marine plywood, epoxy, fiberglass, and time. It took about three months and I learned a lot about woodworking along the way.
When speaking to groups on innovation and creativity, I always ask the question, “Are you creative?” Typically, about 25% will say “Yes”.
Yes. That includes you. You were born creative. You were born to create. If you think otherwise, stay tuned. NASA developed a test for creativity in the 60’s (the 1960’s). They have tested thousands of people of all ages and here is what they have found:
At age five, 98% of us are creative. Sadly, by age 25, only 5% are still “creative”. What happens during those 20 years? Inhibitions, fears, unlearning our creativity, the “right” answer syndrome? Yes.
Fact is, the creative genes we were born with are not gone. They didn’t disappear. They’ve just been repressed and hidden behind walls of “rational” thinking, limits, and can’t do attitudes. After years of education that says there is only one right answer, after years of being ridiculed for thinking “different” or outside the box, it’s easy to start thinking you are not creative. Part of the problem is the definition of creativity.
We tend to think of artists, musicians and inventors as the “creative” ones… probably because they start outside the box and rarely go inside. Truth is, creativity comes in many forms and in all types of people.
Creativity is the process of identifying a problem, studying the facts, identifying potential solutions, then planning and implementing a solution. Only one of those steps is what we traditionally call “creative” but without the other steps, (and the people that drive them) there would be no creativity. As Confuscious said, “To know and not do is to not know.”
There are four problem solving styles: Transformers – these are the folks that transform problems into ideas. Examiners – the folks that like to study, research, and contemplate ideas. Architects – planners, schedulers and organizers. Movers – the doers, the action figures. Together, they form an IDEA TEAM.
Individually, it’s easy to spin our wheels, hesitate, lack direction. Together, problems get solved. Creativity is realized. Whether you think you are creative or not, you can play an important role in the creative process. So, (1) recognize your approach to problem solving, (2) build a diverse team that will contribute to the solution, and (3) get to work being creative.
I took a quick, very unscientific survey recently. It was a one question survey: When you think of Walmart, do you think of innovation? 100% of the answers were the same… “no”. Walmart is just a big ol’ store with lots of stuff at low prices. No innovation, right? Think again.