Our AIM course “Creating Business Solutions With Technology” will be starting soon, so I have been thinking a lot about innovation. This is an important course in the AIM Program where we explore the landscape necessary to innovate. Our students learn how to create an environment where new ideas can flourish and be converted to a competitive differentiator for the individual or organization. So, how can we create business solutions?
Innovators Are Born
In his new book “Originals,” Adam Grant dispels the myth that innovators are born, not nurtured. In fact there are multiple types of innovative people. There are those who can create solutions for new problems and those who can create new products or processes out of existing components. Both are effective in developing new ideas and both are needed to lead new product teams. Innate curiosity is the critical trait among those who devise solutions, and that can be developed in an individual or in a team.
How Do I Foster Innovation?
If everyone in the organization is capable of coming up with new and creative ideas, how do I tap into that to become competitive in the marketplace? A simple way to foster a creative environment is a suggestion box. Sometimes it takes someone outside of the organization to come up with a new idea because they are not entrenched in the daily operations and are not shackled by the current constraints. They are free to think beyond the real or perceived boundaries.
However, a suggestion box will fail if the organization does not embrace risk and new possibilities. If suggestions are rejected simply because they are too risky or do not align with current products and services, then the box will soon be empty. We talk a lot in our course about the organizational culture. Are they risk averse or are they open to new ideas and new ways of doing things? Companies such as 3M and Google require employees to set aside time each week just to think and create and innovate.
Grant makes another point that gives me hope, that procrastination is not always a bad thing. He suggests it is actually a way for creative people to mull over ideas on before they are introduced. He cites examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln both of whom were both editing and rewriting their famous speeches the night before or even right up to the speech. Innovation does not always follow a neat timeline; it may be messy and unorganized. The important point is that it is possible to harness that creative for positive change.
As I prepare for our upcoming class I realize that innovation and creativity do not always follow prescribed rules. The innovative people in your organization may not always be who you expect. It could be the janitor who devises a better seating layout as she works and thinks night after night, or it could be the IT worker who devises a better distribution process by connecting disparate data points. Encourage innovation in your organization and learn to look for it in the usual and unusual places.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.