Ever heard of Dick Fosbury?
He changed the trajectory of an entire sport with his new and creative way to high-jump, appropriately titled the “Fosbury Flop,” still in vogue today. Innovation has changed the music industry, moving from records to cassettes to CDs and now digital downloads. The iPhone and iPad changed technology. Creativity and innovation positively moves the ball down the field, and requires leaders willing to change, because leaders change things.
The moral of this story is that developing a habit of innovation requires intentional, systemic processes and attention to the rhythms of your life and workdays. Following are some practices that have worked well for the teams I’ve led.
Invest in innovation.
I can usually tell a lot about an individual’s or an organization’s true commitment to creativity just by reviewing their finances. Simply put: if you’re not investing in innovation, then it is not a priority. You should set aside funds for you and your team to take like-minded innovators out to lunch on occasion, and encourage every team member to attend at least one professional development conference per year. And these are only for starters. As time goes on, you should invest an increasing amount of money in creative ventures. These will pay dividends in employee satisfaction and product enhancements.
Shake things up.
Make changes often to avoid staleness in any way. Move around where people sit in the office, change the times when meetings are “usually” held, or alter the dress code. On the last one, I don’t mean make people wear ties for no reason. Rather, implement fun and unique suggestions. Perhaps one week you might ask everyone to wear at least one polka-dotted item. Changing perspective can shift trajectory. Football teams can change the direction of an entire game just by bringing in the backup quarterback. It’s amazing how small shifts can cultivate a culture where change is embraced. Change is our friend, because change reflects growth, and creates healthy tension, and out of healthy tension true clarity tends to emerge.
Keep the fun factor high.
Business that’s all business isn’t the best business. Provide your team with “innovation enhancers,” such as toys, balls, candy, and even noisemakers from time to time. Also, remember that a meeting’s vibe is crucial. Music and atmosphere are critical to creativity. There should always be energetic lighting, piles of snacks, and endless coffee and caffeinated drinks (no one brainstorms well while sleeping).
Physical motion is a creativity accelerator. Every sixty minutes of meeting time needs at least ten minutes of motion. Encourage people to stand up, walk around, or even have a micro dance party! Also, urge people to move throughout the day. (Walking or running meetings are an acquired taste, but quite beneficial to some.) And this should also be a part of your personal routine. If you aren’t exercising, then start. Run, swim, bike, join a baseball league, or climb a mountain. Do something to keep moving and get your creative juices flowing.
Find reasons to say yes.
Many high-level leaders are the masters of “no.” But the best ones are architects of “yes.” You should find ways to give people the green light as much as possible. An employee wants to take a day to work from a mountaintop? “Yes.” Someone suggests Skyping in an innovator from Hong Kong to a meeting? “Yes.” Team members request having chocolate cheesecake at the next product development meeting? “Yes.” You get the point. Open as many doors as possible, and see if innovation doesn’t walk through a few of them.
Most leaders think they must give the creatives on their team lots and lots of room to be creative. But this is not true. Borders and boundaries are good for creatives. After all, pictures have frames. So let your creatives paint within broad lines. Build riverbanks in which the creative water can run. Hillsong executive pastor Joel A’Bell says, “Life without boundaries is a life without freedom.”
Most teams give up too quickly on ideas because they feel “stuck.” But being stuck is usually a mile marker on the way to greatness. Most new ideas and innovations don’t work out the way you hoped. But with persistence and continual improvement, great ideas can be born. YouVersion is a great example of this. Originally meant as a website, the idea was almost scrapped, but Bobby Gruenewald decided to try it out as an app before scrapping the project. Now, more than 150 million people around the world use YouVersion as their go-to Bible app on their phones and tablets.
Make meetings creative.
Meetings are (sadly) where most business happens. So they need to be innovation factories. Here are four rules for crafting creative meetings:
1. Include outsiders.Invite like-minded innovators from outside your team to join you on occasion. Some influencers avoid this practice because they don’t want to inconvenience others, but in my experience, most creative people like attending brainstorming meetings because they know it will invigorate them.
2. Exclude (some) insiders. Not everyone should be invited to brainstorming meetings or asked to participate in the creative process. Be wary of including people who work in finance, for example, who always raise the objection that “we can’t afford this” before the idea is even fleshed out. Unless they can think outside the box, keep the bean counters away. And if someone says, “But that’s not the way we’ve always done it,” they are immediately banned from the next meeting. Debbie Downer and Mr. “No” aren’t invited. And don’t feel bad when they get mad.
3. Allow for rabbit trails. Though your team must always move projects in a certain direction, make time to explore unrelated ideas. Additionally, tease out the seemingly mediocre ideas when brainstorming. Often, the best ideawas an “average” idea that was given time to marinate.
4. Take very detailed notes. Find the least creative person in the office who wants to be involved and make him or her the note taker. This role is crucial. Make sure your note taker captures everything that is said and created. Capturing ideas and then being able to retrieve them later is crucial. Everyone thinks they can remember the best ideas, but they’ll be forgotten with hours if not minutes. Notes help you implement innovation.
Implementing these practices will help you develop a habit of innovation. And don’t worry about overdoing it and somehow making your team too creative. It is much easier to slow down a racehorse by pulling back on the reins than motivating a field horse by spurring and kicking and pleading. So giddy-up and get started.
As Jimmy Carter once said, “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.”
Brad Lomenick is a speaker, leadership consultant, author and longtime president of Catalyst. Today’s post is an excerpt from his newest release, H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle (Thomas Nelson 2015). This book launched on September 22 so you can find it now online or in fine book stores!
Be sure to register for the Outcomes Conference: CLA 2016 before October 31, 2015 so you can take advantage of extra savings! See you in Dallas!