The secret innovation skills you need – that are rarely taught

The balance of skills, attitude and experience required depends a bit on what innovation means to your organisation. Sometimes you need to be a product development manager, sometimes a culture change manager, more often both, and on occasion, once you’re in post it’s for you to interpret what the organisation needs and what the senior leadership want – which are often different things. Then there’s the innovation brief that makes my heart sink, ‘we want to innovate and change and disrupt – but we want to be sure it will work’, setting an innovation manager an impossible challenge from the outset.

Sound familiar?

However you choose to approach innovation in your business two things are consistent regardless of what sector or industry you work in.

  • Innovation is about spotting an unmet need or solving a problem. It’s about generating ideas and implementing solutions to make life better for your target audience (and that might be customers, clients and employees).
  • Not all of your ideas or innovations will work.

This means that an innovation manager has to be a lot of things; a diplomat and a dictator, a negotiator with a bloody-minded streak, an ideas person and a completer-finisher, a business analyst and a dreamer, candid and kind, a risk taker who likes a safe bet and possess both gravitas and humility.

The secret skills of innovation are often at opposite ends of a spectrum. You have to be well versed in contrast and contradictions and be able to flex between them in a blink of an eye.

Here are my top tips to thrive in the contradictory role of an innovation manager;

1.   Exude confidence in your approach and also confident vulnerability about what you don’t know. Help people to feel comfortable with diving into the unknown. Help people to learn that it’s OK not to know the answers, and that is part of ‘doing innovation.’

2.   Get a chronic case of ‘toddler syndrome’ and keep asking ‘why?’. Don’t settle for the ‘way things are done here’. Challenge ‘the way we do things here’ at every opportunity and help others to do the same.

3. Become very self-aware, what assumptions or stories do you have that prevent you from doing something new? Keep challenging yourself as well as others to unlearn what you know. Ask, ‘What if we had to start from zero – what might we do differently?’

4.   Be charming and disagreeable. Open up discussions, encourage different points of view and alternative ways of thinking, and do it in a way that others find enchanting.

5.   Take innovation very seriously and also not seriously at all at the same time. You’re looking for an important breakthrough which is serious business, yet our best thinking occurs when we are relaxed and even more so when we’re in a playful mindset.

6.   Be sensitive and thick-skinned – sensitive to the needs of your colleagues and partners. Remember that many people fear change, so tune into and be mindful about how your colleagues are feeling, yet at the same time focus on the needs of your audience, the people that you are innovating for, which sometimes means forging on through despite everything if you are going to deliver on your brief.

7.   Fall deeply in love and be fickle – to innovate, to introduce something new, you have to fall in love to have the passion to keep going to overcome barriers when things get difficult (because things will get difficult). You also have to be fickle and prepared to fail fast and drop your idea if it doesn’t work.

8.   Move fast and slow – turn your ideas into reality as quickly as you can. Don’t wait for perfect and a big launch, involve your stakeholders and your customers as early as possible which can sometimes slow down progress but the insight you gain will be worth the reduction of speed.

9.   Smile, (even if inside you are crying) and be respected for making good decisions and getting the job done rather than being known for being ‘nice’.

10. It’s OK to cry, to be vulnerable and for the idea not to work. The important thing is to share why not and what next so that everyone involved can learn.

11. Focus on why making change happen is important and lead by example. Help to shift the organisational culture to help people have the courage to try, followed by the tenacity to learn from failure and give it another go.

Those soft skills that are rarely taught, they are skills that you learn by trial and error, and that are hard to articulate on a job application. These are the skills that make you a successful innovator. At Lucidity we run training, provide coaching and consultancy on the ‘soft’ skills you and your organisation require to succeed at innovation. If you’d like some help perfecting them then get in touch at hello@lucidity.org.uk.

You might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

Do you work in cycles?

Do you work in cycles?

At the last Lucidity Network event, Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall gave a thoughtful and fun talk on how to be less busy and more productive. She was great, and as always got me thinking. I’ve written before about not leaving your personality at the door when you arrive at work and about being your best self. Grace spoke about the human experience of work. How with technology, automation and remote working the work environment is changing. But we are still human beings doing jobs and whilst we can adapt to change (albeit slowly sometimes) we are still people and we have certain needs and limitations. And our customers are people with needs and limitations too. Sometimes an automated response simply isn’t adequate when we need to connect with another human.

I took three key things away from Grace’s talk.

1. Cycles – everything in nature has a cycle. In a year we have four distinct seasons, each with a different purpose. Do humans have cycles too? I certainly feel low energy at this time of year and much better when we’re fully into spring and even better in summer. I think I do have a yearly cycle. In a day we have cycles too. Everyone is different – some people do their best thinking in the morning, others in the afternoon. Taking regular breaks is important for productivity too. The art is noticing when you’re at your best and planning the difficult work that you really need to apply brainpower to then. And if you can, do this on a daily basis, and if you can a yearly one too.

2. Efficiency and effectiveness are different. You might be very efficient at say, stuffing envelopes, but if sending an email will get the same result in quicker time the most efficient envelope stuffer in the world is not working effectively. I suspect this happens a lot in organisations where things have always been done the same way, no one questions the status quo and there is little appetite for change.

3. Human capacity – this is how much we can take on. It’s not about having a full diary, it’s about knowing what your own capacity is. For example, just because you have a space in your diary, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the capacity for another meeting. If you’re tired, it’s hard to concentrate and time without attention is useless. Linked to this, is your emotional capacity to do things. We only have a certain amount of emotional capacity and some days require more emotional capacity than others. We need to keep our emotional capacity at a healthy level. Become more aware of how you’re feeling emotionally, for example, do you feel like you’re on a knife edge or that you can cope with anything that the day throws at you? Notice the people who build your emotional capacity and those that drain it. Spend more time with people who build you than people who drain.

If you’d like the opportunity to listen to great speakers at exclusive events and get help and support to be less busy and more productive then check out the Lucidity Network. For a regular dose of food for thought and to stay in the loop with our upcoming events, sign up for insights. You might also like the free Lucidity Facebook community – a place to get help and support as well as access to expertise and advice. Join here.

F—it and step out of your comfort zone

Our conversation was all about comfort zones: why it’s important to step out of them and how she’s stepping out of hers.

Emma was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at the age of 29. It was unexpected to say the least. Emma has reframed that unexpected news as an opportunity to reinvent herself and as a reason to do the things that make her happy right now rather than put them off for some point in the distant future.

This year Emma is completing her F—it List. She’s deliberately putting herself out of her comfort zone and doing something new or different every day for the whole of 2019.

It starts with ‘Try January’

January is always full of resolutions, people stop doing things that they enjoy or are bad for them (these are often the same thing in my experience). Emma thinks ‘Try January’ is a better philosophy – starting a sparkly year in the way that you mean to go on. Emma decided to do brilliant things in January and didn’t want to stop after a month. Why not make it a year? Why not make it a way of life?

‘You have a choice about how you see the world. It’s your responsibility to invest in yourself and progress yourself. No one else has this responsibility – it’s down to you.’

Emma started with a list of brilliant things to try and over the months and as news of her F—it List has started to spread she’s getting offers to do things that she didn’t even know existed! The list now includes an eclectic mix of edible cinema, trips to underwater lakes under shopping centres, flower arranging, shooting guns in a firing range, learning a language from a colleague in a lunch hour, scuba diving, hot air ballooning and a visit to Japan.

Emma is really geeky

When it comes to data and spreadsheets Emma is a self-confessed geek. She’s working out how to use her F—it List to do good. Often investing time and money in ourselves can feel narcissistic. We feel guilty. Yet, looking after our physical and mental health or simply being kind to ourselves is fundamental to our wellbeing. For example, Emma is thinking about how activities make a person feel, both mentally and physically. What emoticon would describe it? She wants to be able to say, ‘If you want to feel like this, then do this F—it List activity.’

The F—it List is not about doing ‘scary things’ because everyone’s comfort zone is a different shape and size. It’s more about taking responsibility for and looking after yourself, learning new things and spending time with people you love.

Learning new things involves exploring unknowns and this means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Being able to step outside of your comfort zone is important because as the world around you changes, what you know now isn’t going to be enough to get you to the place you need to be in the future.

Tips for stepping out of your comfort zone

Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Make a list of the worst things and then work out how you’d deal with them. For Emma, she shared that the worst might have already happened – because being diagnosed and living with Parkinson’s isn’t the best news. So in a way, Parkinson’s has taken the edge off the fear because she’s doing well with the ‘worst’ and this has made stepping outside of her comfort zone easier.

Know yourself. Work out how you react to things. Do you thrive being thrown into the deep end or not? Stepping outside of your comfort zone is not necessarily about doing a great big massive thing that terrifies you. Assess if you will achieve more by taking small steps or one giant leap?

Be accountable. Ticking something off on a list because people are watching provides a level of pressure and accountability. Tell people your goals and they will hold you accountable. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Whatever your goals, doing something small to keep moving in the right direction is better than stopping still.

Surround yourself with people who are stepping out of their comfort zones. Best friends don’t always understand. According to Tim Ferriss, you are the ‘average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.’ Find others who will push you and challenge you. Spend time with people who help you up your game, cheerleaders and honest friends.

Just do it. Make the task feel smaller than it is. Sometimes doing something new gets built up in your head as being scarier than it actually is. Stop fear taking hold by breaking the task down into small and manageable chunks. For example, if you struggle to speak up in meetings, start practicing to speak by agreeing with a colleagues comment. This will help help you build your confidence.

Have a project pre-mortem. Get to the route cause and name the fear. For example, I was afraid of going scuba diving, and when I unpicked it, my fear wasn’t about breathing under water; it was about finding a wetsuit that fitted combined with anxiety about getting in and out of a boat. Once I’d identified these fears I could pick out how I was going to deal with each of them one by one and they became more managable.

Be a bit scared. If you feel comfortable then you’re not pushing yourself. Remember that you will be missing opportunities by not stepping up.

If as Emma says, happiness is learning new things and spending time with people you love, get more curious, surround yourself with the important people, step out of your comfort zone and go and learn.

Follow Emma’s progress on the F—it List blog.

If you are interested in learning and achieving more, join me for a free training webinar on stepping out of your comfort zone on Wednesday 17 April at 12.30pm UK time. Places are limited. Sign up here. 

Are you asking the right question? (Part 2)

are you asking the right question - part 2

When I started studying Cybernetics, in 1982, we were asked to read ‘Introduction to cybernetics.’ (Ashby 1956).  After sleeping on the first three pages I produced the following chart:

Cybernetics processes to apply to information tight systems/machines developed from the ideas in the introduction of ‘Introduction to cybernetics.’ (Ashby 1956 from Hibbs 1992)

I noted that Ashby suggested that by working out a cybernetic example of ‘all possible uses’, one may identify important information gaps.

This was something that I could get my head around at this early stage, so I decided to explore it.  I first chose a ball-point pen to analyse, but soon abandoned that as being too complex. A lead pencil seemed more promising.

I started with iterations of a spider graph and before long would have needed paper the size of my room to put all the possibilities.

The analyses included attempting to use the concepts from the chart above.  I decided that ‘represented by’ might be some form of transformation or substitution, in which the wood might become charcoal and the paint molten paint drops.  I noted that there are many possibilities for using the whole or parts for unusual purposes: mini building blocks, cogwheels, wedges, dice …

When I started to think about the ‘lead’ I quickly realised that it was not the metal, lead, but graphite!  My research showed me that graphite is active with very strong oxidisers like fluorine, chlorine. Because except in a vacuum where its layers are not so slippery, it is the ‘universal lubricant’, excellent for door locks because it does not become sticky.  Usefully it is stable to minor trauma, but abraded and transferred to surfaces that are not microscopically smooth, like paper. So, that explains why it does not work if there is grease or oil on the surface.

I found no ideas for ‘ultrastability’ but some ideas for ‘feedback’ by observing written marks, hearing it crack or feeling or seeing it break.  Then I decided that a database of feedback mechanisms might be useful in future and suggested that the new Exercise Physiology Department (now part of Brunel University) would have useful components for such a database.

In a similar way, I continued to work through the chart.

When I came to the next seminar my supervisor asked about it, “Would anyone else be able to follow the paths that you have taken?”  I said, “In theory, yes, but many of the databases have yet to be built.” He said “Fine. Leave that now and learn Cybernetics.” In the appendix A of my thesis, I provided instructions to follow my thinking.

So, what is the question that you should ask? — ‘What are all possible uses?’, rather than the usual one, ‘What else could I use it for?’.

If you think about it, lots of things that we do are reusable with modifications, but most of us treat a lot of what we do as single use, not thinking that one might be able to use them to leap-frog on another occasion.  Storing whole entities or single components in retrievable form with a suitable address, could save hours of work.

Those of us in innovation too often ‘miss a trick’ by asking ‘all uses’ rather than ‘all possible uses’, a question that takes your creative brain forward to exciting reverie and possibly some great ‘aha’s’ in the hours, days, weeks that follow.

My thesis is: Information handling: concepts which emerged in practical situations and are analysed cybernetically.  1992 Accepted for PhD. ISBN 1 873015 03 8. The online version is available for free download here. Full copy at Brunel University and the official deposit libraries including the British Library.

 

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network. To connect with Genevieve and the other wonderful members of the Lucidity Network join our free Lucidity Facebook community for clearer thinking and better results.

5 ways reading will boost your communication skills

5 ways reading boosts your communication skills

1) It gives us something to say

In a world where information is the new currency, reading is one of the best sources of continuous learning, knowledge gathering and idea sharing. Books and articles give us the ability to roam throughout the world, travel back in time and look to the future, affording us with a deeper view of ideas, concepts, practices, emotions and events. Reading can open your mind to new choices that you may not have known about or considered before. This is all information which we can then share with others.

2) It helps us understand other people

The first rule of effective communication is to know your audience. Reading about other people can help you understand them better. The same neurological regions of the brain are stimulated when you read about something as when you experience it. Unlike watching the television or listening to the radio, reading gives the brain more time to stop, think, process and imagine the narrative form in front of us. Therefore, reading can help put you in someone else’s shoes, to get inside their heads and experience the things they have. The more you understand someone, the more you can tailor your communications to what they need.

3) It increases our vocabulary

The more we read, the more likely we are to come across new words. Business books, in particular, have words and phrases that are unique to their topic. If you need to communicate with particular sectors and industries, understanding the language being spoken is essential. Otherwise, how are you going to know your CTR from SEO?

4) Reading strengthens the brain

And a strong brain means more effective communication overall. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. As we read, our brain decodes abstract symbols, makes connections, and conducts various visual and auditory processes. Indeed, multiple studies suggest that mentally challenging tasks, such as reading, help to maintain and build brain cells and connections between those cells, helping to preserve the memory and thinking skills.

5) Reading can give us the ability to make a point

The more we read, the more our brains are able to link cause and effect. The ability to communicate cause and effect is a central component of any argument, sales pitch, negotiation or story. As such, a well-written article or book will be structured in a way that helps us to think in sequence rather than jumping from point to point.

If you’re keen to read more, expand your mind and learn new stuff, why not join the Lucidity Network and participate in the business book club? Members have the opportunity to nominate their books of choice, and all discussion will take place virtually meaning you can take part no matter where in the world you are.

Membership of Lucidity Network is only open for a short time though so you need to get in quick. Join now so you don’t miss out.

If you’re already a member of the network and want to join the book club, drop Becky Slack a line to register your interest. She’s leading on the group and will be coordinating the reading list.

 

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.