Are you feeling so overwhelmed by the crush of day-to-day tasks and obligations that you don’t want to think about trying anything new? Does the idea of “innovation” seem like a luxury available only to other people, to professionals who have more support or are less under the gun?
If innovation seems beyond your reach, think again. By remaining open to innovation, you can bring new energy and productivity to your career, no matter how your job is defined.
An “innovation” is new product, thought or process that allows us to squeeze more value from the same old situation. The new science of “creativity” examines the innovative process and tries to explain how innovation can be nurtured.
One scientist, Keith Sawyer, author of “Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration,” has crystallized an increasingly popular view. He says that innovation is what drives today’s economy, and collaboration is what generates innovation.
According to Sawyer, “collaboration drives creativity because innovation always emerges from a series of sparks – never a single flash of insight.” In a successful work team, members play off one another, with each person’s contributions providing the spark for the next.
Companies like 3M believe that a key to encouraging innovation is to convene collaborators and support their efforts. As diverse experts begin to work well together, innovation emerges, sometimes in unexpected ways. Sawyer describes a classic example, where a 3M researcher created a new adhesive that failed as a bonding agent for tape. But one of his colleagues noticed how well the adhesive worked on bookmarks, and Post-It© Notes were born.
Even if you don’t work within a supportive collaborative environment, there is much that you can do to become more open to innovation. Consider these strategies:
- Be positive. When you are in a negative state, the voice inside your head may say "no" to every new idea, even the good ones. Notice your own reactions, and watch for knee-jerk thoughts like, "this won't work" or "it's hopeless." Choose to re-program your defeatist self-talk with phrases like, "I'm open and willing to try!"
- Take breaks. When you work at the same tasks hour after hour, day after day, the creative parts of your brain may start to shut down. To be at your creative best, leave your desk every 90 minutes or so, take lunch breaks, and schedule regular vacations. Research shows that you'll be more productive - not less - if you allow time for renewal.
- Learn something new. If you're in a slump or feeling bored, study a new field or develop another expertise. The topic need not be related to your job. When you are in learning state, you'll bring new thinking and fresh approaches to your work.
- Vary your routines. When you follow the same patterns every day, you may grow less aware of what is happening around you. Something as simple as a new route to work can make you more alert, and open to different ways of thinking.
- Ask for help. When you feel stuck, ask other people for suggestions. It can be particularly useful to brainstorm with people from different backgrounds or disciplines. The key, however, is to keep an open mind and actually listen to what they have to say.
- Draw a picture. If you organize your plans with a linear outline, you'll be using the more analytical, left side of your brain. You will more fully engage the creative right side of your brain, as well, if you try something more graphic. Illustrate your challenge or project with diagrams, using color and icons. Explore free "mind-mapping" software from sources like Wikipedia.
- Focus on your strengths. Identify the skills and approaches that work best for you, and look for additional ways that you might put them to work.
- Focus on your stakeholders. Remind yourself about your mission and the people who have a stake in the success of your work. Focus on their needs and interests, and ask whether you might serve them in new ways. As you redefine their problems, at least in your own mind, you may spot solutions with broader applications.
Want to find more ways to bring new energy and innovation to your career? Visit Bev's website at www.ClearWaysConsulting.com. Check out brief book reviews, eZine archives and Bev’s blog. If you have questions email to Bev directly.
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