Innovation. It’s all the rage. The word is everywhere you look – newspapers, magazines, blog posts, meetings and conversations.
Are we innovating enough? Can we be more innovative? How can we create more innovation?
It’s a challenge that business leaders love to throw at their teams.
It’s also a challenge that most of us face in our personal lives, perhaps even without realizing it.
And yet, we find ourselves falling short – in life and in business, on the innovation front. The reality is – it’s not easy!
Why is innovation so hard?
Not for the reasons we think. We often think that we’re not smart enough, creative enough or resourceful enough to come up with great new ideas.
There’s nothing inherently different/better about the people who are in companies known for innovation vs. those who are in organizations that feel stale and stuck.
There’s nothing inherently different/better about those who live their lives with intention and creativity vs. those whose lives feel boring and blah.
But here’s what is different…
The people who innovate, the groups that innovate and the companies that innovate all have a system.
They have a system, a process and a place where innovation happens.
They stop wondering about whether they’re innovative enough, and different enough and smart enough.
They assume the answer is yes (it’s yes for all of us!) and just get down to it.
Most importantly, they know the answers to three important questions…
The 3 questions we must answer if we want to be innovative
When, where and how.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
I assure you, it’s not.
There’s nothing simple about carving out substantial time from your busy schedule.
There’s nothing simple about creating the physical, emotional and mental space that allows innovation to happen.
There’s nothing simple about getting out of your comfort zone.
And yet, they do it…
They answer the question of when. When will we regularly gather for the purpose of innovation?
They answer the question of where. On-site? Off-site? Same place every time, or different environments to help with new ideas?
They answer the question of how. This is the most complicated one, and innovators know that without the how – without the structure, process and facilitation – nothing will really happen.
The executive masterminds/think tanks/peer groups (pick your word – I still don’t have one that I love) that I lead have all answered the questions of when, where and how.
These unbelievably busy business leaders have all decided that they will take one day a month and dedicate it to innovation. To learning, growing, stretching, coming up with new ideas and making commitments to try new things.
When? The third Wednesday of each month.
Where? Members take turns hosting, so we’re in a new creative environment (and learn about different businesses and cultures) every month.
How? Professionally facilitated, with expert speakers, designed exercises, issue and opportunity processing structure, and commitments to trying new things.
It’s a unique when, where and how. It’s different from other attempts to learn, grow and become more innovative. It’s different from attending a conference, or reading a great business book, or participating in a 6 week leadership program.
It’s a very thoughtfully structured when, where and how. It’s challenging, fun, supportive and ongoing. And it works.
A strategic planning session that turned into Team Fun. Yes, it actually was/is as great as it sounds. I was working with a company on improving their culture, engagement and retention of top talent, and we discovered that they weren’t having enough fun at work.
After two days of creating a serious strategic plan for the company’s growth, we all looked at each other and said, “This was actually fun!… Why don’t we have this much fun in other meetings?”
My answer? When, where and how.
Let’s make it happen, Team Fun! And so we did. We decided who would be on the team (mixture of senior leaders, middle managers and front line folks), when they would meet, where they would meet and how they would structure their meetings to keep driving great innovative ideas about bringing more fun into their company.
Two years later – it’s a whole new world there – filled with joy, creativity, friendship and exceptional work. They’ve exceeded all the targets they listed in their strategic plan.
And a final example
John and Jane (not their real names, of course) had a good enough marriage. They loved each other, had a great family and supported each others’ goals and dreams.
Life was good, but they both wanted more than good. They wanted great. So they decided to innovate.
They set up a regular time and structure where they would try new things. New foods, new sights, new activities, new people and new adventures.
One year into the experiment, they looked back on their innovation journey and agreed that it was one of the best things they had done for their relationship. They felt happier and more connected than they had been in years.
The thing about innovation…
It doesn’t just happen because we want it to happen.
It doesn’t just happen because we think it’s a good idea.
It doesn’t just happen because we talk about its importance.
The thing about innovation is that it really does need a when, where and how.
I know because I do this for a living. I help people innovate. Their businesses and their personal lives. I help them create the when, where and how.
And there’s nothing more thrilling than helping my clients and group members become better and better versions of themselves.
But I also know because I implement this in my own life. With structured sessions with my own peer groups, my own coach, and my own systems for generating new ideas, I’m able to be more innovative in my work and my life.
How about you? What’s your structure and plan for personal and professional innovation?
If you don’t currently have one, and wish you did, try answering the three questions – when, where and how – and see what you can come up with.