Innovation on the Inside
How to Cultivate a Future-Facing Mindset
As somebody who travels the country speaking about the role of technology in the professional environment, I’ve had the chance to talk with countless business owners and team members about innovation. Far and away the most frequent question I’m asked is how somebody can create a workplace atmosphere where innovation is seen as a benefit, rather than an obstacle.
More often than not, when people ask this question, they’re expecting me to reply with an answer that involves demonstrating the benefits of advanced technology, providing them with sources for cutting-edge initiatives, or creating systems that makes adoption of new services easy. While all of that stuff is undeniably important, it’s not the biggest barrier to innovation in most organizations. The hurdle you have to overcome first and foremost doesn’t live in computer code or your SOP handbook; it resides in your own mind.
The Mind of an Innovator
“The best leaders begin with an environment that embraces and rewards change and innovation,” says Lynne Doughtie, the chairman and CEO of KPMG US. To develop this environment in your workplace, it has to start at the top. If a business owner requires innovation from their team but doesn’t expect it from themselves, there’s a disconnect that inhibits company-wide enthusiasm for new endeavors. In other words, you have to practice what you preach if you want an innovative mentally to stick.
What you need to be is a connected leader. Your behaviors will inform those of the team, so it’s up to you to dictate what your company’s approach to innovation will be. If you have habits that make you resistant to innovation, you need to break them. Being an innovative leader involves seeking out opportunities for improvement, getting your team excited about change, and presenting a vision for the future.
The bottom line is that if you want your business to be innovative, you have to be an innovator and have innovators in leadership roles. It’s not a magic switch you can flip. No amount to technological savvy will do you any good if you are emotionally and psychologically resistant to change. When it comes to innovation, you can’t fake it until you make it. You need to be onboard from day one of any new initiative if you want it to stick.
The Benefits of Innovation
In today’s business environment, a willingness to innovate is among the most prized qualities a company can possess. Fast Company’s annual list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies has become a hotly desired accolade. The companies who innovate are those which earn headlines, investment, and status.
Innovation, then, is essential to growth. While that may sound like an imperative to innovate, it’s equally a way to encourage your team to tackle innovation head on. Innovation provides opportunities for both career advancement and personal growth. When these two concepts begin to feed off one another, you’re well on the way to developing a workplace where innovation is looked at with optimism, not skepticism. As Carol S. Dweck writes in her best-selling book “Mindset,” “When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation.”
Another point this quote deftly illustrates is the importance of embracing innovation in terms of its advantages to employees. Yes, the crux of adopting new practices or beginning new services is to provide more for your customers. However, it’s also about how innovation will impact the lives of your team. If they believe innovation is a way to displace them, they are never going to feel good about it. It has to be about empowering them, to use Dweck’s word. Make clear to the team that innovation is about giving them the tools they need to excel, not finding a way to replace them.
So to answer the question I’m asked so many times in as few words as possible I’d say this: If you want to create a workplace that embraces innovation, start by looking in the mirror. You have to be fully ready and committed to embrace chance yourself. Cultivate that inward flame before projecting outward.
Once you’ve established a mindset of innovation, you can get down to the nuts and bolts. Skip that first crucial step, however, and you’ll just be going through the motions.