Develop Innovation Skills Through 6 Techniques

When we write of intrapreneurship, we are addressing the need for businesses to foster innovation. While process and procedure can create a friendly environment in which creativity can occur, there are times when some individuals inside an organization need a jump start. How does an organization encourage its people to overcome what would be called in literary circles “writer’s block?” For, if your company can identify how to unleash the power within the minds of its employees, great things can happen on behalf of the customer and the company and its stakeholders–including the employees!

 

Catch 22Woody Bendle penned an article for Innovation Excellence recently highlighting that innovation instincts can be sharpened and expanded. It is necessary, according to Bendle, to “sharpen your instincts.” Bendle reminds readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s writings (Blink and Outliers) on how to become more intuitive. Gladwell, says Bendle, “provides several deliciously compelling examples of the human “Adaptive Unconscious” at work. This Adaptive Unconsciousness is discussed as one’s ability to intuitively connect a myriad of seemingly disparate dots in a split second in order to form an accurate expert opinion. And, fortunately this Adaptive Unconsciousness is something that one can develop over time.”

Furthermore, writes Bendle, Gladwell makes the case for developing “expert” knowledge and abilities through what he calls “The 10,000 Hour Rule:”

Gladwell’s thesis is that after 10,000 hours immersed in a particular field or activity, one begins to have a seemingly innate level of knowledge or capability. Put another way, with 10,000 hours of effort you can take your Adaptive Unconsciousness (instincts and intuition) to a new, almost uncanny level. But at this point, one’s expertise is potentially narrow, and one way to bring even more value to your innovation process is to expand your instinctive base.

Bendle suggest the following 6 techniques to awaken your latent innovative capability:

  1. Occasionally take yourself out of your daily, weekly and monthly routines. You’ll be amazed by what doing something different or doing something differently can do for your mind.
  2. Purposefully seek out the new and the different – and pay attention. There is a whole lot of life going on out there and to borrow a quote from Ferris Bueller – “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  3. Go Wander and Wonder. Go see, do, and experience something completely out of your wheel-house. Get out of your comfort zone and whet your appetite for confusion. Seek out things that are amazing to you.
  4. Challenge your senses. Take a moment every now and then to mentally catalogue what your senses are experiencing and then, maybe even push them a little further.
  5. Make note of things that inspire. Each of us are moved in different ways. Pay attention when you are inspired. Ask yourself why you were inspired. Make note of what this feeling is inspiring in you.
  6. Play! Have you ever spent any time watching two young animals playing around or rough-housing? They are developing their instincts and this is one technique that we human simply don’t do often enough.

Try these techniques the next time that you are trying to solve a tough problem at work. See if they propel your thinking toward greater objectivity and clarity. If you find that the techniques are working for you, take it to the next level by sharing your experience with co-workers, a supervisor, or subordinate. As more people learn to think about the everyday work world with more innovative mindsets, “breakthroughs” should become far more common and frustrating “Catch-22” situations less so!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Soft Skills Matter in Business – Even if Not Measurable

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work alongside some brilliant co-workers and clients. Whether it has been inside a public accounting firm, or as an advisor to engineering and construction companies, I am often surrounded by folks with strong technical skills. Since my role has usually involved organizational development, strategy, or marketing and business development, I have heard time and again how “soft and fuzzy” topics such as relationships, emotional intelligence, and creativity and communication are less needful than the technical skills.

Susan Mazza, who writes a blog entitled Random Acts of Leadership, recognizes the dichotomy of “soft” versus “hard” skills in her recent post, “The Power of Soft.” She states in the post that, “the very need to distinguish “soft” vs. “hard” speaks to a paradigm that has long revered hard results as the only ones that really matter. Unless something can be quantified and measured the underlying belief is that it is somehow less valuable and hence of lesser importance.”Soft vs hard skills

Whether I have been in conversations with a CFO, a business owner, or a  VP of operations, I have heard over and again how that which cannot be measured must be insignificant and pale in priority. Mazza references a recent TED Talk by Dr. Brene’ Brown, “Leaning into Vulnerability” in which Brown shares how one of her research professors once stated, “If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t exist.” Mazza observes that many with advanced degrees subscribe to a scientific framework that assumes “measurable” is the only test for “real!”

Dr. Brown’s talk about vulnerability addressed the effort to view “soft” subjects with “hard” data. New insights have prevailed that challenge the long-held distinction within the business world of the value of each category of skills. Mazza’s view of the new awareness is that, “in our relentless pursuit to collect and analyze data, we all too often ignore the most important measure of all – our senses!”

The behavior we see and emotions we feel, according to Mazza, are the source of the most powerful tool we have as leaders and mangers – our ability to observe. She observes the following:

You have probably heard the phrase, “the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife.” Can’t you feel that tension? How much productive work gets done when that kind of tension is present? Yet we often grind through what we see and feel through simple observation, knowing both the experience and the result are going to be less than satisfying.

Would having a mood Geiger Counter to assign the tension a number really make any difference?

By simply observing the mood and the impact it is having on your ability to fulfill your commitments, you are able to take action to make a difference in any moment. How to take that action is, of course, another subject.

The point here is the real power of soft comes from our innate ability to observe. So perhaps it’s time to give up our attachment to measuring all things and the belief that, “If you can’t measure it it doesn’t exist.”  Why not start  learning to better use the tools we have been born with – our senses – as an access to improving relationships, enhancing performance and creating great places to work?

The ability to navigate through tensions, create win-win scenarios, and build esprit de corps comes not from technical, “hard” skills, but from those soft and fuzzy assets that many C-suite executives and business owners underestimate. Think about your own organization and how greater respect for soft skills could make it a better place to work, where senses are valued equally with data and relationships that build goodwill are put on a pedestal.

 

 

 

Entrepreneurial Field of Dreams

Many communities across the United States are scrambling to come up with an agenda for entrepreneurship. With significant success stories in the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, others have jumped onto a bandwagon. Each community pursuing the elusive prize is making wagers with a combination of public and private dollars to try and effect economic growth through encouraging start-ups. While the models being used are very different, the common denominator is that each effort, like a start-up itself, must determine where to focus to obtain the best trade-off of investment versus anticipated benefits.

Go For It  Start a BusinessInstead of one of the “hotbeds” of entrepreneurship, I like to look at what is working in the hinterlands. Columbia, Missouri certainly seems to fit that categorization at first blush. Mike Brooks leads REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc.) in an effort to “promote positive economic expansion and provides increased economic opportunities in the Columbia area, assisting entrepreneurs, developing businesses, and companies relocating.”

His group sees the following as Benefits for Local Communities committed to the process:

  • Employment and Opportunity: Cities are places where people live, work, and play. Cities need opportunities for employment so citizens can afford to enjoy the metropolitan lifestyle. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Prosperous cities work to understand this dynamic, since entrepreneurs will establish their businesses in locales that support business growth. The jobs created by entrepreneurs not only support current citizens’ lifestyles, but they also make specific cities more attractive for future businesses to establish themselves in that location.
  • Tax Income: Communities require governance to provide a structured environment. The infrastructure of successful cities would not exist without money coming into local economies from the sale of products or services. The necessary public works and amenities that sustain a city depend on businesses, as well as resident taxes and purchases.
  • Identity and Character: Entrepreneurs help create the unique character of a community. This character enhances the sense of place and belonging that adds to the overall quality of life. Most entrepreneurs start businesses where they live, which allows companies to develop deeper connections to the community. Apple, Google, Dell, and HP started as entrepreneurial companies that were identified with, and formed a strong relationship with, their surrounding communities.

In order for these benefits to accrue to the community, an entrepreneurial ecosystem has to be built. In Raleigh, the Innovate Raleigh initiative is the rallying cry for such dedicated efforts, though many others are tackling the challenge in differing ways. The important thing is to, as Brooks recommends,

Support Entrepreneurs

  • Recognition and Shared Goals: Already-established entrepreneurs in the community can greatly help city organizations focus on effective economic development, prioritizing incentives, and planning strategies to encourage business growth. The presence of colleges or universities can also be a great channel for enticing businesses to launch or expand in a community. A diverse population of students, professors, visitors, and residents allows for more variety in business ventures.
  • Community Programs: Several communities around the nation continually find successful ways to encourage local entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, the city of Littleton, Colo., decided to focus on homegrown businesses as a community growth strategy. They established “economic gardening,” which focused on bringing sophisticated, corporate-level tools like database research, geographic information systems, search engine optimization, and social network mapping to small businesses within Littleton. This nurturing environment proved successful and serves as a model for similar communities throughout the nation.

Other best practices for supporting entrepreneurs have less to do with cool co-working spaces and meetups and more to do with helping someone who’s never run a business sort through what they will face. A proven entrepreneurship curriculum, complemented by personal mentoring of the founders by experienced start-up veterans, is so needful and should be a part of every community’s offering to all entrepreneurs they hope to serve.

Innovation: Spurred By Introverts or Not?

introvert v extrovert

We are all familiar with the stereotypes surrounding introverts. Yet, Stefan Lindegaard at 15inno.com, in a blog post today, while acknowledging that he is an introvert and prefers to be alone, looks at the unique role introverts can play in innovation.  He projects that, in terms of innovation, more innovation will happen in communities either in the b2c form of crowdsourcing or in the b2b form of innovation networks, alliances and challenges. He sees the communities as not just virtual/online, but also in person. Some of Lindegaard’s observations about introversion as it relates to innovation are below (he doesn’t perceive the shift to synchronized collaboration to be one that will exclude introverts from innovation.)

Reflection is an important, but forgotten capability. It is often said that introverts get more energy through reflection and that it dwindles during interaction. Well, we need more reflection. There is too much action in this fast paced world and when it comes to ideas and innovation, the best results seem to come when you take a break and reflect on the problems you are trying to solve.

Organizational structures need to make room for introverts. With the exception of a few pockets such as R&D and accounting most functions within a company seem to be driven with an extrovert-like attitude. But not all people are social. Many are introverts and don’t necessarily want to socialize and focus on external matters. What about them?

Introverts must learn to turn on the switch. Far too many meetings either take too long or should never have taken place at all. The matters could have been dealt with in more effective ways than a meeting. Introvert or not. 

But when I need to interact with others in the physical world, I have trained myself to turn on a switch that allows me to be a good networker (ask questions, focus on the other person) and deliver good talks. I would actually argue that introverts are capable of becoming better networkers than most other people because we are more likely to define a purpose and execute on this before we interact like this.

We need to develop the softer skills. Yes, it is kind of a cliché that soft skills such as networking, communication and “people skills” are really the hard skills, but this does not change the fact that too many companies fail to educate their employees on this. More importantly; they don’t give the employees the time needed to develop these skills. Those who want to succeed in the social era need to change this.

Social media works well for introverts. You can “hide” and still have a strong voice in your community or industry. This is one reason that I spent so much time with social media. It is a great way to communicate and since there is so much input (some call this information overload), it gives you plenty of opportunities to reflect on what is happening and thus build further on your own thoughts and ideas. Social media makes it easier for introverts to become more social. It is a win for everyone.

Introverts can challenge the crowd. Since most introverts shy away from the crowd, they often see the crowd in a different perspective. We need all perspectives when we work with innovation and good innovation leader make an effort to recognize this and thus pay extra attention to listen to the more “quiet” introverts.

 

Lindegaard’s comments should be challenging to traditional organizational development thought. He almost goes so far as to recommend diversity strategies to balance personality types in work groups. Furthermore, he portrays as valuable the tension between thinking and communication, solitary productivity vs group performance. Think about these concepts and your own organization. Consider how you may better organize yourselves to be more innovative. 

What Raleigh Can Learn From Chengdu

Many groups of people have been trying to spur innovation in Raleigh, North Carolina. One in particular, Innovate Raleigh, has sought to unite the educational community with economic development and entrepreneurship. Conferences, forums, and meetups all have been convened to help identify what needs to be done to create an ecosystem that is comparable to other areas of extreme innovation across the United States. What about overseas? What can be learned from places like Chengdu?Innovation ball

Chengdu, with a population of 14 million, is the capital of Sichuan province. It is the city where paper money — a colossal innovation — first appeared in 1024. The printing of the Buddhist canons “Four Books” and “Five Classics” made Chengdu the early center in the art of printing.Rowan Gibson, the co-founder of Innovation Excellence, describes Chengdu’s spirit this way: “Innovative thinking is part of its history, and it is shaping its future.”

John and Doris Naisbitt, who are well known for global trends and futuristic studies, have recently written a new book, Innovation in China: The Chengdu Triangle.  They make the following observations:

Innovation in Chengdu is growing out of a strategically planned nourishing business environment and an entrepreneur-friendly administration in a stable social climate. Following the principles of a well-run company, Chengdu’s leadership combines management and business acumen with social consciousness and, to a much greater extent than we have ever seen in a Western local government, a service-oriented administration. A good example of innovative service are the quarterly meetings the  mayor holds, and in which every problem, request or complaints must be solved or dealt with within three days. The first meeting was held in March 2003 and meetings have been held without interruption since that time.

The first pillar of Chengdu’s reform is its wider focus which is not exclusive on industrial development, but on a whole range of investment attractions. 

The second pillar of Chengdu’s innovation model is to seek to enhance the allocation and efficiency of “intangible assets.” 

The third pillar of the Chengdu model is bilateral exchange.  

Chengdu is dedicated to beat its innovation drums faster, louder and more insistently on all fronts. But Chengdu is only one of China’s many ambitious and competitive cities. High Tech Parks are growing like mushrooms after a warm summer rain and lure with high wages and $150,000 moving grant for top executives. Top-talents find support in Incubation Centers. Mentors, seed capital, offices and technological equipment are part of the package. China’s “Thousand Talents Program” aims to bring back 2,000 talented Chinese paying salaries between 60,000 and 360,000 Euro. Up to the year 2020 China is dedicating 15 percent of its GDP to human resources.

As we look at ways to broaden the Raleigh economy to capitalize on the success of the Research Triangle Park, the major research institutions, and a highly educated workforce, the Chengdu model is enlightening. We have witnessed the high tech park approach as a key economic driver in our history, and are hopeful that the next evolution of RTP will benefit Raleigh as strongly as the first few decades. The emphasis on Incubation Centers is important. Raleigh needs many such centers of innovation. Thankfully, organizations like the HUB and EntreDot are addressing this need. EntreDot is, in fact, expanding beyond its Kindred Boutique for artisan entrepreneurs and opening a new innovation center in Lafayette Village tomorrow (January 17, 2013).

Innovation centers that offer programs that do not include a strong mentoring component do not prepare entrepreneurs and existing businesses to optimize their talents. Seed capital is needed, as are offices and access to the right equipment. However, the entrepreneurial education and mentoring are key. Finding a way to attract talent back to the area is another idea whose time has come. Even in biotechnology and emerging, fast-growth sectors, study after study has stated the need for more top talent to run world class organizations. Let’s apply some of the principles of Chengdu to our own market and spur even greater innovation!