How do you Innovate Yourself?

Have you been playing defense and no offense? Or maybe you feel you aren’t even on the playing field, you are on the sidelines watching. Maybe you aren’t even on the sidelines watching, you are a spectator in the stands. Or worst of all, you don’t even have a ticket for the game, nor cable tv to watch it at home and you are just laying on the couch. This is how some people feel with there life and how I feel now and then. I feel the action is happening and I’m not a part of it nor even have the chance to see it. This can be a miserable feeling.

Sometimes we assess our professional lives and realize that we have just been operating a machine for an extended period of time. This machine may not even be a real machine but what we discover is that our work, our organization, or our processes have become a bit stagnant or repetitive. We lose our excitement or even hope for the future because nothing is changing. We are doing the same damn thing every day, every month, and every year and this has become bothersome. We are doing precisely the same service, making the same product, doing the same marketing, giving the same speeches, and asking the same question every month and every year. When this repetitive stagnation happens it not only adversely affects our professional life but also seeps into our personal life. Hey, most of our personal lives revolve around our professional lives anyway, so when that isn’t good, little else is. What people need is change. This is the first thing. Staying in ruts is no fun, getting out of them is.

But change for what? Just change for the sake of change? Well, if you identified with that first paragraph, even change for the sake of change is a good thing. It will add a little bit of air and movement to break the stagnation and stops the mold from growing. But what is powerful, what can be downright compelling, is change when you have a vision, change when you see a potential for a purpose, change when there is a goal that attracts you and others like a magnet. This is what is awesome. When there is a new challenge, this awakens something in you. It may be fear, but that usually comes about first anytime change happens. So, connected to that fear is excitement and also a new found hope and perhaps invigoration in your professional life. This vision, this purpose, this goal gives you a destination strive for. It gives your mind a reason to start thinking again. This is good for a person.

What is the ultimate for a person’s professional life is this thing called innovation. Innovation is changing. Innovation has a goal, a goal to get better. Innovation can happen in a lot of different contexts. You can innovate new or existing products. You can innovate your marketing. You can innovate your services. You can innovate your business processes. You can innovate your organization as a whole. Most compelling, motivating, and inspiring is that you can also innovate yourself as a person. Yes, all of these things have the capacity to change, to grow, to develop, and to improve in slight ways and in ways that you can’t even tell the difference. I get to work with people all the time that I would consider to lead boring lives, people who work in large bureaucratic organizations. Note: Personal bias here. My style isn’t consistent with large bureaucratic organizations. Organizational theory identifies that these organizations are more structured and guided by policies and procedures. I like smaller, more person centered organizations where we can make decisions instead of referring to policies that may not reflect complex situations or goals at hand. I’ve been employed at some large organizations and like being an entrepreneur with my own company or being a part of smaller and newer organizations more. This is my personal style, probably driven by the fact that I enjoy working a couple of hours from Panera each day. Back to the story, surprisingly, some of these people who work at the large established bureaucratic organizations are full of great life. This is because they work in innovation. They are concerned with innovating products, services, and everything else. They look to innovate everything they see and realize that they with others have the capacity to actually do it. They have that challenge, that goal, that purpose, and that vision in their professional lives and I can see the difference in these people. My conclusion, innovation is good for a person.

Where do you go from here? 1. Assess. Is your professional life stagnant? Is there a lack of change or growth in the stuff that you do and in your organization, heck…in your own life too? 2. If you assessed that yes, change is needed…well change for what? What can be changed for the better? A product, service, process, organization, you? Perhaps all of these things? 3. What is the purpose connected to a vision connected to a goal for this change? 4. Start innovating.

OK, so what does “start innovating” mean? To say “I’m going to innovate” is cool, certainly. Saying this to yourself in the mirror each morning is a little weird but will probably have some good effects.. I’m a leadership geek. I’ve studied leadership for a number of years and it is a really fuzzy thing that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Innovation is similar to leadership. They both have some similar meaning and they both get a “huh” response when you ask people for a definition. What I’ve found to be helpful is to take this fuzzy concept and break it down into its parts. So for innovation, let’s break it down into some different stages. Many different organizations and individuals define innovation in different ways, have different systems, and have different parts of these systems. In general though, some similarities exist.

So, let’s break it down simply. 1. Identify the opportunity or problem that will lead to the innovation. This requires some hard thinking and some research. What exactly is it that you are trying to innovate? Is this the correct thing that you should be going for? Make sure that the “innovation for what?” question is answered here and gather a fair amount of information. This is your background research stage. 2. Formulate questions. Because you’ve done stage one you should have a much more thoughtful understanding of the situation, problem, or opportunity. Start breaking that problem down into it’s pieces and formulate corresponding questions. So, if the problem is that nobody knows about your organization and thus cannot do business with you, a simple “how can we get more people to know about our organization?” is a question that can be broken down into “who do we want to know”, “what we want them to know,” “how do we communicate this message,” “how can we use the internet to communicate this message,” etc. There are lots of ways you can break down the problem once you’ve gone through that first stage of understanding it and thinking about it. Stage 3 is what I like best, it is the “coming up with a bunch of ideas” stage. You do just that. Take each question, organize them in a way from more general to more specific, and come up with a bunch of ideas for each. Utilize many different ways of coming up with ideas from just writing some down on your own to using a group brainstorm if possible. The goal here is to literally come up with hundreds of ideas. Stage 4 involves making meaning of all those ideas you came up with and analyzing them. Stage 5 involves developing some solid concepts in greater detail. Stage 6 involves testing out those concepts and developing them further based on feedback. Stage 7 is taking action and doing what you had set out to do in the first place. It is executing the marketing plan to increase awareness about your organization if we refer back to the previous example.

Innovation is fun work and also challenging work. It is much easier to do if you can break it down into the stages and take each stage at a time. Many times organizations start but don’t finish. So do each step at a time and make sure you move up the steps and finish and actually take action! If you go through the stages what you will be taking action on should be pretty good because you studied and clarified the problem, you formed great questions, gathered a number of ideas, made meaning and analyzed the ideas, developed solid concepts, tested those concepts and improved them even more. This leads to a nice innovation! Start innovating!

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