Have you been forced to innovate?

Innovation happens when people connect.

We’ve been forced to innovate over the last couple of years. And as with any innovation there’s been successes and failures. Assumptions have been challenged, breakthroughs have been made and new ways of working have been established. Organisations have been forced to find new ways of engaging with customers and employees, many of which have potential to deliver better returns than current methods.

Yet, despite successfully responding to the pandemic, many organisations still have a culture of ‘how we do things here’ making innovation, changing or testing anything new difficult. Something new can feel more risky. However it might, in the mid to long-term be more risky not to continue to test new ways of delivering products and services since there are no guarantees that the current ways of working will continue to generate the income needed.

Perception of risk has been written about for many years. Notably by Daniel Kahneman (I recommend reading Thinking Fast and Slow) for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, as well as ‘inventing’ behavioural economics, for which he was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Kahneman says that actual and perceived risk are not necessarily the same, and we under-react to changes that occur over time, which explains why we’d rather stick with the declining ‘what we know’ than risk the possibilities of the unknown. We prefer to just keep buggering on – unless circumstances, like a global pandemic, mean that we’re forced to innovate.

Innovation happens when people connect

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Innovation happens when people connect.

Some years ago Southwest Airlines ran a programme that included people from in-flight, ground, maintenance, and dispatch operations. For six months they met for 10 hours a week, brainstorming ideas to address the broad issue: ‘What are the highest-impact changes we can make to our aircraft operations?’

At the end of the six months the group presented 109 ideas to senior management, three of which involved sweeping operational changes. Chief Information Officer Tom Nealon said that the diversity of the people on the team was crucial to this process, mentioning one director from the airline’s schedule planning division in particular. “He had almost a naive perspective, his questions were so fundamental they challenged the guys who had worked on it for the last 30 years.”

When people with different perspectives and skills meet to work on a problem they can ask new questions, spark different thinking and solve problems in new ways. Cognitive diversity is an important aspect of innovative thinking and it’s one of the reasons I believe teams and individuals that are not directly responsible for, or even know anything about the problems in question hold the secrets to your organisation’s next innovation.

Those not immersed in your problem, just like the team at SouthWest Airlines can ask the questions that those close to the problem wouldn’t think to ask.

Get better connected and increase your opportunities for innovation

Be more deliberate about connecting to people outside of or with little experience of your area of work. Make it OK for them to ask questions and challenge the assumptions that you hold. Don’t wait to be forced to innovate, make it part of ‘how we do things here.’ Here’s 4 tips to help you:

  • Innovation thrives when people talk.  Set up your day so that you meet people. If you’re back in the office get to know people in other teams. Make a cup of tea and talk to people in the kitchen. Get your face known by teams outside of your own. This is harder if you’re working remotely, but you can still connect with people on Zoom or on the phone. Some organisations organise randomised coffee trials to help facilitate these sorts of conversations across teams.
  • Get others involved in the early stages of innovation. Ask them to attend idea workshops. Encourage them to ask ‘why?’ more. Help them to be brave enough to be open about all the things they don’t know about the topic.
  • Ask other teams for help in understanding their areas of expertise.
  • Help others ask more questions. In my experience, there is no loss of credibility in asking obvious questions.  Questions like ‘why?’ ‘why not?’ ‘what if’ and ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ (by asking it outright we often find that the worst is not as bad as we first imagine).

If you’d like some help extending your networks and opportunities for innovation, consider joining the Lucidity Network. It’s a combination of training and a community of people who can help you. You can join the Lucidity Network here. If you’d like to have a chat about the Lucidity Network or working with me to develop your capacity and innovation then you can book a time to talk here.

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