In today’s fast-paced world, innovation is key for businesses to increase productivity and profitability. Because of the strategic importance of innovation, it is not enough for only senior management to be innovative. Companies are increasingly expecting employees at all levels to come up with innovative ideas at work.
But innovation isn’t always easy — and it often requires a unique blend of skills, attitudes and behaviors. Fortunately, it is possible to develop these skills and become more innovative at work — and it pays to do so.
Innovative employees are able to make a larger impact in their roles, thus showing that they are a valuable, competent and motivated employee. Through creative problem solving, they also find ways to work more efficiently and effectively, which can cut costs for their employer.
With 84% of CEOs believing that innovation is critical for growth, it clearly plays an important role in business success. However, only 6% of CEOs are satisfied with their company’s innovation, which is an indicator of an innovation gap. So, innovative workers who can close this gap will be increasingly in demand.
Even if you don’t currently consider yourself a mover and shaker, there are ways to increase your innovation skills. In this article, we cover 10 tips on how to be innovative at work.
1. Consume inspiring content
Creativity and inspiration are necessary prerequisites for innovation. After all, innovation stems from conceptualizing ideas and coming up with new solutions to problems. So, if you’re lacking in creativity and inspiration, it will most likely be difficult to generate those ideas. For this reason, engaging with inspirational content is key to innovation.
When looking for content to get inspired, try engaging with materials outside your field or usual interests. Oftentimes creative ideas aren’t always completely new and original, but actually stem from divergent disciplines and concepts.
For example, if you work in PR, you most likely already keep tabs on what your competitors are doing and draw inspiration from other PR campaigns. However, consuming content unrelated to your field, such as blogs or podcasts, may be unexpected sources of inspiration.
2. Change your mindset
Although creativity and innovation are oftentimes thought of as personal attributes, they are actually both skills that can be developed. However, in order to develop these skills, the right mindset is required.
One quality of top innovators is that they tend to notice possibilities. For example, even if at first glance a process doesn’t seem as though it is capable of being improved, try not to reject the possibilities immediately.
With deep thinking and creativity, you may be able to find a less obvious solution to work better. Keeping a positive mindset that is open to possibilities will help you to be more innovative at work.
3. Get others involved
They say that two heads are better than one, and when it comes to being more innovative at work, this is often true. While innovation may start with one person’s idea, refining the idea is a necessary component of innovation.
Seeking input from colleagues can help you better refine your idea and become more aware of any blind spots you may have missed. Since different people have diverse experiences, perspectives and skillsets, they can also help you form connections and spot patterns — which are key for innovation.
If you have an idea for an innovation at work, try asking a colleague if they’d be available for a brainstorming session. They may have ideas and input that you most likely hadn’t thought of yourself. Even if you’re working from home, there’s nothing stopping you from reaching out to coworkers for their ideas and opinions.
4. Start small
When you’re thinking of how to be innovative at work, it’s a good idea to start off with smaller-scale innovations. Oftentimes, it’s the small tweaks and improvements that can have the biggest impact. So, starting off with small innovations is a good way to work your way up.
Look for changes you can make within your area of responsibility and control. For example, see if there are new or innovative ways to complete your tasks. If you use a specific software or tool in your job, looking for new features or opportunities to work more efficiently is a great place to start.
5. Seek role models
A good way to learn how to be more innovative is to learn from people who are particularly adept at innovating. Role models can be an important source of inspiration. And through learning and emulating their habits, you can, in turn, become more innovative yourself.
Role models can include historical figures, contemporary business leaders, or a mentor within your professional network. You don’t need to know them personally to be able to learn from them. For example, if you are inspired by Thomas Edison, you could inform yourself about his attitude, approaches and behaviors, and try to incorporate them into your life.
6. Walk outside
Although it may seem counter-productive, if you feel like you’re lacking in creative fuel, getting away from your desk and going for a stroll might be just what you need. In fact, studies have shown that exercising and walking can boost your creativity by up to 60%.
The reason that walking is so beneficial for creativity is because it increases “divergent thinking”, which refers to the brain’s ability to explore and generate various solutions to a problem. The brain basically enters a state of free flow, which is the optimal condition for creativity, and consequently innovation.
7. Don’t fear failure
A popular philosophy within tech startups is “fail fast”. This mantra may at first seem like a form of self-sabotage. However, the premise of the approach is that innovation is not possible without failure.
So, through experimenting often, you’re bound to have some failures but also some winners as well. Although you don’t want to be completely foolhardy when attempting to innovate, it’s vital to not let fear of failure stifle ideas.
Without execution, ideas aren’t much use. Try to not overthink all the things can go wrong and just take action. Starting out with low-risk innovations where the consequences of failing are minimal will help you build up your risk tolerance.
8. Question assumptions
If you’ve been working in a role or organization for a while, it can be natural to develop some blind spots. These are habits or behaviors that you may fail to see but could be considered weaknesses or hinderances to performance. For this reason, blind spots provide great opportunities to innovate.
One effective way to start uncovering blind spots is through questioning common assumptions. This works by essentially taking any long-held principles, practices or behaviors at work and taking the initiative to observe them in a new way.
For example, consider how you were trained to do a certain task when you started your job. Then ask yourself if there is a more effective or efficient way to complete this task. Assuming that something is correct because it has always been done a certain way is the quickest way to stifle innovation.
9. Attend events
Attending events, such as seminars, conferences and workshops is a great way to become more innovative at work. They can help you not only develop the skills required for innovation but also meet like-minded individuals with whom you could bounce around ideas.
Some examples of large annual innovation conferences are the Future Festival and Innov8rs. However, if you’re looking for something more small-scale, innovation workshops and seminars can be found in many major cities around the world.
You also don’t need to attend specific innovation-focused events to become more innovative. Attending any events that helps spark creativity, such as writing workshops or art classes, are good ways to boost your innovation abilities.
10. Embrace vulnerability
According to Brené Brown, “There is no creativity without vulnerability.” This is because expressing the creative ideas that are required for innovation involves opening yourself up to potential criticism, failure or judgement. However, having the courage to be vulnerable and put yourself out there is a necessary prerequisite for innovation.
It isn’t always easy, but there are steps you can take to be more vulnerable at work. Try sharing some of your innovative ideas first with colleagues you trust. You can then work your way up and gain the confidence to share your ideas in meetings and with other colleagues.
Becoming more innovative at work is not something that happens overnight. It requires a certain set of attitudes and skills that are developed over time. However, with all the benefits that come with being more innovative at work, it’s worth taking the time to develop these skills.
When taking steps to become more innovative at work, below are some things to keep in mind:
- Engaging with content from various disciplines and sources is an effective way to inspire creativity.
- Developing a positive mindset will help you better recognize possibilities and creative solutions.
- Collaborating with others brings in diverse perspectives that can spark innovation.
- Sometimes it’s the smallest innovations that can have the biggest impact. Start small and go from there.
- Walking has been scientifically proven to boost creativity, which is required for innovation.
Each person is capable of becoming innovated at work. And with the above tips, you are well equipped to unleash the innovative ideas within you.
Are you looking to be more innovative? Did you find this useful? If so, share it with your friends!
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 2 September 2020.