There’s a simple, free (most of the time) way to get close to innovative thinking.
Attend a start-up pitch battle.
You’d be amazed by the crazy ideas people come up with. And with one minute to pitch, it teaches you a lot about message simplification.
I attended a TechCrunch one the other day. Naturally, I expected the investor panel to focus on funding. But not this time. They questioned the founders on risk taking.
“You take in continuous innovation and nurture a first round of early customers at the same time. What if you go belly up?”
This got me thinking about our own roles as leaders of change. We know we need to be more innovative to thrive in a disruptive world, yet we must be able to recover from any threat.
How can you promote innovative thinking? Embrace risk taking.
Firstly, what is innovative thinking?
Innovative thinking could be defined by your ability to question your environment, and respond with incremental improvements. Practically speaking, it is to use testing and experimentation to, say, improve your product or develop your abilities.
Reading Google’s 8 principles of innovation, you can see that to promote innovative thinking, you need agility and to develop a growth mindset. This goes hand in hand with getting over your normal tendency for risk aversion.
Simple ways to promote innovative thinking
You can’t get into innovative thinking without pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone. This is exactly why you need to embrace risk taking.
To do so, mimic the habits of innovative thinkers. Explore your issues in a way that gives a solution and develops your resilienceat the same time.
1. Reframe the problem.
Shifting your perspective from “issue” to “missed opportunity” can work wonders. Instead of looking at “what’s wrong”, explore the impact. Work backwards, dissect the process, and find the possible root cause for emerging issues.
2. Have your assumptions challenged.
You certainly don’t want to create your own blind spots. Suggest an idea to your boss. Talk about your issues, describe the moving parts. People are unlikely to see it in the same light, and can tell you where there is friction.
3. Use a Proof of Concept (POC).
True creatives don’t look for validation. They present a 70% finished product, forget their ego, and get real-time feedback. You can create a POC for nearly everything; an app, a beta product, or even a draft presentation. By testing your idea early, you expose the weak points that deserve deeper exploration.
4. Binge on creativity.
Most disruption doesn’t come from brand new ideas. Apps for instance? They use technology to resolve known problems, but in the context of our lives in the 21st century.
It takes a great deal of creativity to apply new thinking patterns to problems we’ve had for a long time. If you want to promote innovative thinking, engage your right brain! There are many ways to develop your creativity. It could be as simple as making time to think and study, or working on your emotional barriers.
What about risk taking, then?
Anyone can use the principles above to bring their thinking to a new level and make strategy real. But having the guts to execute on your innovative ideas is another beast altogether.
Risk taking was recently discussed on the Dell Luminaries podcast. Mark Schaefer and his co-host Douglas Karr were talking to Ray O’Farrell, CTO at VMware. His stance was clear:
“The risk of taking a risk is lower than not taking a risk.”
Interestingly, as a CTO, he does not actively plan for innovation. Ray O’Farrell plans for a culture that promotes innovation.
The difference is subtle.
“Culture” implies a trust ecosystem, where you feel safe to engage in continuous questioning. When you’re free to explore the sticky points, you inform improvement by addressing each risk directly through the creation process. This generates business value. And innovation follows.
Back to our start up founders. They knew about the risky bits in their businesses. They could go ahead because they understood why they could materialise, and how they could anticipate their impact. But not at the expense of agility, and responding quickly to market challenges. This is the price to pay for innovation.
Innovation can’t happen without risk. But if you fail, what are you failing at? Achieving a set of pre-estimated metrics? Or growing as a better performer? In that context, are you denying the cost of inaction by playing it safe?
We all underestimate our ability to handle the consequences of risk. Risk is not a monster ready to be slaughtered. It’s a metric you can use to estimate if you’re going too far, too slow or too early.
So yes, to promote innovative thinking, you need to embrace risk taking. But not as a way to avoid a certain level of failure. As a source of data to assess how well you can recover if things go wrong.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken? Let me know how it went in the comments!