Five Keys to Innovation

Innovation is an important aspect of work performance. Even in the most mundane of jobs, having an innovative work force can dramatically improve efficiency, not to mention, improve the overall work environment. After working for many years in a creative industry, as both architect and facade engineer, I have learned that creativity is not the only suitable aspect to innovation. There are other key elements that improve innovation, and they can be practiced by any organization, in any field.

Key No1 – Fail Often and Fail Fast

Teams that are encouraged to fail quickly are less likely to be precious about ideas, and less touchy-feely about being ‘criticized.’ By engaging in quick practice runs, a team is more likely to run into innovative ideas and in the process, learn to give and receive feedback in constructive ways. It is shocking how so few architectural offices engage in actively providing feedback, along the course of the project. Team members are left to perfect their ideas, and when an idea is met with criticism, it becomes a personal issue. I have seen the same plague in other sectors. Bottom line is this: no one achieves great results in life without taking a few falls. And, a few ugly falls at the start is better than later on. The quicker we have feedback, the quicker we can course correct.

Key No2 – Source, Source, Source

Innovation is not a necessarily linear process. Ideas can jump from one side to the next, and innovation can be born out of such chaos. But, I suggest that there is a linear process that can help place some boundaries before thoughts become too scattered. The sourcing step is truly key in the whole process. First, we must learn to ask high, open ended, opportunity based, generative questions. The better the question, the better will be the possible answers and ideas generated from it. A good question will enable an overflow of ideas to pour though. No idea should be rejected. In the second step of this process, ideas are sourced in writing – on a big white board, on individual flash cards, or whatever form suits the team. Like pumping water out of the well, the first few ideas might be a little nasty – not the water we want to drink, but eventually we get to the pristine stuff. But you have to keep pumping the water! From there, ideas are then selected based on energetic value first – what gives the team the most energy, the most enthusiasm. Only then, are ideas officially ‘scheduled’ and served. At this point, the logistical aspects are brought to the table. The nay-sayers of the team will have to wait until this point in the process to voice their concern. Sorry!!

Key No3 – RELAX!!

Don’t need to say much more here…but I will. Stop trying to find solutions through strained effort. The mind does not work that way. Like the browser of the internet, the rational mind serves a very important function – to ask a great question, to pose the challenge. Let the sub-conscious mind do the rest, like the internet. Take a break, have a good laugh with your peers, even better – go meditate, focus on your breath, calm your mind. You will be amazed how the download of ideas just flow uninterruptedly when we do that. This blog came to me when I woke up early one day, after having let my mind go to work overnight on a presentation I was asked to give, on innovation. Trust me, this works!

Besides, intuition is a huge ally to innovation, but intuition is a quiet voice that you will not hear while staying busy forcing ideas through your mind. Source ideas, and then let yourself connect with this universal intelligence, as T. Edison would rightly advise.

Key No4 – Change Roles, Change Perspectives

If you are too attached to your title and what you ‘supposed to know’ then chances are, you are looking at things from a very narrow lens. The best way to become the innovator in the room, is to be the person who can ask questions that do not only pertain to the his/hers role. In architectural firms, I have designers switch seats with structural engineers, and structural engineers with sustainability consultants and so on, and they have to ask questions from this new role. It is phenomenal what comes out – because we free ourselves from having to know, we actually turn the level of curiosity way up.

Key No5 – Be Curious, Be in Awe

If you are not bringing a childlike quality to the team meetings where innovation is being called upon then it is time to loosen up the tie a bit. Always have more questions than answers in any meeting. The world is full of experts. What we need, when innovating, are those who can free themselves from such burden and show up with complete awe about the world around them. Be curious, be in awe – is my last and most essential key to innovation.