How to Improve Innovation
Let’s face it busy operational managers and senior leaders need solutions! They recognize that today ordinary, quick-fix solutions have limited benefit in an environment where constant change is routine. These managers and leaders want innovative solutions to the problems they face in the workplace. In working with business professionals, I often find that they want a magic formula for innovative problem solving.
The truth is, however, innovative and creative solutions require every day changes in behavior and thinking. There is no magic formula. Every day tools for innovative and creative thinking are often simple and they require some time. The biggest challenge for these results-oriented managers is often just slowing down their responses. When managers and leaders make the commitment to slow down their responses and use the tools, however, the payoff can be huge.
Two simple and underrated tools for achieving innovative and creative solutions are listening and observation. I discussed the power of listening in an earlier post. Observation is the sibling to listening. And, like listening, it too is underrated! Observing the problem and watching it under different circumstances is one of the best ways to understand a problem’s true nature. Observation is also helpful for improving practices.
There are many examples of the power of observation. The television series, Undercover Boss, is one example of the importance of observation. In this series, each week, a CEO will work in disguise at different jobs in the company. At the end of the show, the CEO will describe important learning that he has gained from the experience. Interestingly, the most significant learning often comes from the CEO’s observations of others performing jobs in his organization. The saying a picture is worth a thousand words also describes the importance of observation. People can describe a problem to you, but there is no substitute for seeing it for yourself in action.
To use this tool effectively, you have to observe a problem as it occurs naturally without affecting the behavior of any people involved. If you lead or manage a team, you may have to do discrete observations of your operation. An alternate approach is to view a similar operation to gain insights on how they handle an issue. Observing what others do is a great way to spark your own breakthrough thinking.
If you manage or lead a group, one way to use this tool is to give your team observation assignments to complete. For example, if your unit is unable to meet deadlines on a particular project, have team members spend some time observing and noting what is occurring in the workplace and have them report back to you in a team meeting. By relying on the collective observations of your team, you increase the quantity of quality feedback. You also have more eyes on the problem so the potential to achieve a breakthrough solution is more likely.
The next time you face an issue observe the situation and allow your mind to understand the true nature of the problem. As you understand the problem, you can spark your own innovation.