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How any business leader can consistently drive innovation

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For business executives, innovation can feel like a white whale. You know you need it to keep up with an ever-changing world, but it’s often frustratingly elusive. Do you need more creative people? An office space that inspires innovation? Different collaboration software?

While those things can help, they’re far from the most important.

In my experience, organizations can consistently drive innovation when their teams adopt the right mindset and show up with the right behaviors. Here’s a look at how to bring these behaviors and mindsets to your organization to become the leader whose teams consistently add new value.

Know that innovation can be taught and learned

Most organizations are optimized for the business they have today. Their teams are often siloed by function and they don’t engage in cross-disciplinary collaboration. They may not even have visibility into what other teams in the organization do. What’s more, the usual ways people communicate in institutional settings don’t lend themselves to collaboration.

These ways of working inhibit innovation.

The good news is that by introducing different ways of working, any organization can become an innovator.

Even better: these ways of working (or “working differently”) have been clearly defined and used over and over (including by TXI) to innovate in the real world. Once you’ve committed to learning these attitudes and actions, you’ll be on your way to transforming how your organization works.

Embrace a beginner’s mindset

The beginner’s mindset is hard for most leaders. They’re incented to know things: their industry, their customers, their employees. But to effectively innovate, you have to accept there are things you don’t know. And, more importantly, you have to actively seek out those things.

How? By observing and experiencing the world your users are living in. By asking them questions. By questioning your own assumptions. By being ready to be surprised or to realize you were wrong.

Finding out you’re wrong is unpleasant. But being open to that discovery is essential to innovation. One of the most powerful things a leader can do to spur innovation is to create an environment (and incentive!) for people to experiment, fail and learn.

Consider as many voices as possible

Engaging with end users is key to innovation, but theirs aren’t the only voices to consider. Leaders should also facilitate collaborative work by multi-disciplinary teams.

Each part of your organization understands a different party of your user’s journey best. Bringing as many of those voices together helps ensure input from users gets interpreted holistically.

For example, on a project I worked on to improve patients’ health outcomes, we successfully paired physicians (often seen as the “experts”) with members of the broader care team—including less-credentialed, non-medical staff.

The less-credentialled group, who were often excluded from such exercises and brainstorms, offered some of the most valuable insights about, for example, how patients navigated the physical office and traffic flowed through the space. This led us to reconfigure the layout and improve wayfinding as part of an improved overall patient experience. It also reduced congestion and confusion, which in turn, increased patient compliance.

Consider as many ideas as possible

Considering diverse voices helps ensure you get a holistic view of your users and your capabilities.

Considering as many ideas as possible is a scientifically proven way of finding better ideas. Bad ideas are part of the process.

But it’s not enough to generate and share ideas. Your team must create models and prototypes of those ideas. You have to give ideas real-world dimensions so you can get concrete feedback and keep iterating.

Let the best ideas win

In many business settings, ideas from executives carry the most weight. And in a system where leaders are incented to be experts, that makes sense.

To drive innovation, though, it’s important the best ideas win, regardless of origin. A simple system like dot voting is a great way to have a working group quickly identify the most promising ideas when you have a lot to choose from.

And once you have a subset of ideas the group believes has potential, you can return to your user groups to test and shape them further—co-designing with the very people you’re aiming to impact.

Embrace these attitudes and behaviors, and innovation will happen

In many business settings, research is the first thing to go when a budget gets trimmed. Or else it gets the axe when a timeline gets tightened. But innovation can’t happen without user research. In fact, it can’t happen without any of these behaviors and mindsets.

The reality is, the most expensive thing to do is build something users don’t want. It’s also the slowest: launch a product that doesn’t resonate, and you’re back to square one.

Innovation requires a degree of upfront exploration and investigation that’s totally new to many leaders. But it’s also the surest, most consistent way to discover the best ideas and bring the most impactful products and services to market.

Published by Antonio Garcia in Product Innovation