Start Small to Foster Innovation

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By: Brady Mick, BHDP Architecture | Jan 20, 2014

Today is an age of innovation. If asked to name a favorite celebrity innovator, names like Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and CEO of IDEO Tim Brown come up. Yet not all innovation has to represent life-changing concepts, products and services.

In fact, innovation traverses many aspects of daily living. Simply recall a time when road construction required you to turn off the beaten path to arrive at your destination. The effort you took to incorporate the change required the behaviors of innovation, albeit a “small” innovation.

When seeking ways to foster workplace innovation, consider these five small behavioral changes:

  1. Move! Change locations five times in the next week for each of these activities. Spend at least an hour in a new location for each.
    – Paperwork
    – Computer work
    – Phone work
    – Thinking work
    – A personal hour to yourself
  2. Don’t use an agenda for your next meeting. Change up the next meeting you lead by not bringing an agenda. Just bring a question for the team, and ask them to quietly write their ideas on Post-it notes and then lead a discussion between the team. Afterwards, work together to arrange the results on the wall to see what ideas flow.
  3. Resist email for a day. This one may be a challenge: don’t answer any emails for one day a week. Truly become “heads down.” You may read them, but no responses! Instead, write down the key issue in each email and break the day’s list down into five categories of your choosing. And here’s the really challenging part: eliminate three of the categories as non-central to your work and find ways to prevent them from ever arriving in your inbox (and sending them to others’ mailboxes).
  4. Do one thing at a time. Do you find yourself doing other things during conference calls? For example, do you doodle, work on spreadsheets or return emails? Instead of “multitasking” (in other words, doing multiple things poorly), pay attention to just the call and write down the key elements of the purpose of the call. Identify the top three values of the call and then send your list in an email to everyone on the call. Open your interpretation to critique and see what kind of future call values your experiment generates.
  5. Determine what tasks, thoughts or actions are self-limiting. At the end of each day, write down your most stressful moment and place your thoughts somewhere safe. After five weeks, sit down with your manager and review the stressful moments to discover deeper meaning. If neither of you finds any meaning, repeat the process for another five weeks until a pattern emerges.

Being innovative requires changing one’s work habits. Remember, people who keep repeating the same work habits in response to the same problems will only produce the same results. To achieve small innovations, change your routine and expectations with these and other innovative behaviors that you devise on your own.


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