Innovation Happens When You Are Presented With a Problem

The study of innovation in the workplace focuses on moving beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary success. It is about channeling or harnessing the spirit of your workforce’s optimistic tendencies and pushing the limits of what you thought you were capable of producing or achieving in your business. It is about celebrating your strengths and maximizing your attributes and about moving the needle in the right direction to achieve successes that you never could have imagined. If you look, innovative individuals can be found in every community or business. They will be the individuals or groups that have been given the same resources but for some reason have found a practice or a behavior that enables them to find better solutions to problems.

Innovation theory focuses on demonstrations of excellence when organizations and their members break free from the constraints of norms and perform some extraordinary action. It is advantageous for every company or boss to find ways to get their employees to want to work beyond normal levels because when they do, output levels increase. If employees are involved in pushing boundary limits, higher engagement and increased job satisfaction occurs. Innovation happens, new inventions are thought of and processes are streamlined. Money is saved and new technology is achieved all because someone paid attention to something that was a little outside of what we normally do and said, “Hmmm… your different way seems to be working a little better than the way I have been doing it. Let’s try your way for awhile.” Pretty soon, everyone realizes that the experiment works a little better so it becomes the new standard of behavior. It’s as simple as that. So the question then becomes, how do you keep your performers motivated to keep moving the line of what is acceptable output and raising the bar higher on their own performance? How do you get your people to want to “Think outside of the box?”

There are so many reports, books, seminars, videos and trainings out there to help your company capitalize on innovation. Innovation is such a vague and broad term unless you can manage to tailor it to what works for you and your product or employees. I think what I would want someone to take away from my fascination with the merits of innovation in the workplace is that it is about fostering the spirit of innovation in your employees and building the desire for them to want to be innovative for the benefit of your company. So many companies are trying to compete in tightening economic conditions. With job cuts, increased job responsibility and company closings, streamlining processes, creating new products, expanding on existing ones and finding ways to make your company more successful are all very desirable, especially if your employees are the ones generating the ideas. The key is that it needs to be simple and relatable for your employees. They need to be able to understand it and see how it applies in their world and how it will make a difference if they switch to an innovative way of thinking. It can’t be so complex that there is no buy-in and it can’t be so complex that it takes years to implement and measure. The buy-in does need to be complete and affect all levels of management because leading by example is critical if you are going to change the culture of your business. If you and your upper level managers don’t understand it, you probably won’t be able to explain it or demonstrate it to others consistently.

Wow. The idea of changing how a company thinks still sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? I promise it can be done. I have seen it happen. I can show you examples of companies that have done it. I can show you statistics of companies that have increased their profit, saved countless jobs and revolutionized industries. I can give the names of fifty books that will make you jump up and say, “A ha! That’s it!” But without a simple plan to follow and a place to start, most of you will still feel overwhelmed and a little nervous about making such a dramatic change in your organization. Don’t get me wrong, I want you to feel as strongly about how great an innovative workplace can be. I want you to believe it and want it for your company and your people but if I don’t help you come up with the rough draft of a plan, this will might be just another book with a few great “A ha” quotes.

The dictionary says that Innovation is the introduction of something new. It derives from a latin word innovatus which means to renew or to change. Generally innovation refers to the creation of better products, services, technology or process. The words innovate or innovation have been buzz words for a decade describing everything from Apple iPods to car technology. It obviously isn’t a new concept. Anytime there has ever been a need for a new product or design to make our lives better pr something more efficient, some brilliant person was there to solve the problem. That’s how we got the light bulb, the computer, cell phones, space travel.

It isn’t different when you are thinking about your company. You have (x) amount of people that work for you that are specialists in a certain field or area. These folks know how things work and how to get the most out of your product. Have you ever challenged them to look at something just a little differently? Have you ever pushed them to produce just a few more of something in the same time limits? How about do the same amount of work with five less people?

Most of you are now saying to yourself that there was so much push back. You heard excuses like, “It can’t be done. Impossible.” There was probably some dissention. There might have been grumbling and complaining in the break room or at the water cooler. You might even have people that start looking for new jobs. But what if I told you that if your organization’s culture supports teamwork, loyalty, commitment that there are some studies that suggest lower turnover, absenteeism and higher retention. Companies that foster innovation are also shown to retain and recruit more highly skilled and trained personnel. Why? Because they are engaged in your business and want to succeed. Because they are part of the process and they feel ownership. They have access to knowledge and look for ways to build upon your business’ successes, failures and history. Individuals that are part of an innovative society don’t hear “I am cutting your friend’s job and all the workload is falling on you.” They hear, “We are struggling and there is an opportunity for us to pull together and get over this hurdle.” They hear, “The way the assembly line is working right now is going to work for one person, but if we slow the speed down, one person can produce the same amount of widgets if they work one half hour of overtime each day.” They hear, “If we study the hours that we have highest customer counts and staff accordingly, we can better serve the customer.” Not, “The sky is falling because I have to reduce staffing hours. We can’t make it.” We only think when we are presented with a problem. JOHN DEWEY

Thinking outside the box is a phrase that refers to looking at a problem from a new perspective. It is widely used by management consultants and performance coaches. Analyze or re-analyze the root of your problem and the rules. This will provide and a wider look at different solutions. If moves you to investigate the boundaries of the solution, perceptions and possibilities. Finally, it illustrates that repeating the same process over and over without finding the right answer does not work. You have to look at the situation differently and in a different way in order to see the answer.

It is universally accepted that innovation is a way that companies can insure future growth. Developing a learning type of environment or attitude is critical to encourage this growth. Recent studies have listed a few inhibitors to look out for when building this type of organizational environment. Long development times, a risk avoiding culture, having limited insight to customer needs, poor marketing and communication abilities, poor measurement tools or processes and possibly reduced or inefficient relationships with vendors or suppliers.