Is there a business person in the world today that doesn’t want to be more innovative? We all know that the ability to consistently reinvent ourselves and the value we deliver in the marketplace – in other words, thinking like an innovator – is critical to success. And many people and organizations invest a great deal of time, energy, and resources into strengthening their innovation skills.
So why is it that some of us find thinking like an innovator so challenging? What gets in our way?
Clearly there are a lot of things that make up an effective innovation process: a forward-thinking, can-do organizational culture; the resources necessary to get the job done; the skills and talent required for productive collaboration; etc.
But before any of those things become important, in order to innovate, there’s one thing you absolutely must have: an idea.
Ideas are the seeds of innovation. Every innovative product, service, or process ever created started out as someone’s idea. Whatever else you have going for you, if there’s no idea, there’s no innovation. You’ve got to be thinking like an innovator every day.
The good news is, we all possess the innate ability to generate ideas – really good ideas, in fact. The entire history of humankind is the story of men and women generating inventive ideas that solved problems and capitalized on opportunities. We all do it in our personal and work lives, every day.
So if everyone is a natural-born creative problem-solver, capable of coming up with ideas, why does it sometimes seem so hard, or even impossible, to come up with good ones when we really need them. What gets in our way?
There are actually a number of impediments to idea generation. Most are concepts or viewpoints we unintentionally “learn” as we grow up.
Here are 5 of the most common.
- Self-Doubt—a lack of faith or confidence in yourself, or in your ability to come up with worthwhile solutions. Many of us develop limiting beliefs about our creative thinking abilities as children, largely because we’re so often taught in school to think in linear, non-creative ways. If you had a vivid imagination as a child, chances are at some point you were told by your teachers or parents to “quit daydreaming,” or “stop fooling around.” Eventually, you probably did exactly as you were told: you stopped thinking creatively.
- Self-Criticism—that inner voice of judgment that plagues all of us, causes us to doubt ourselves and the merits of our ideas, and feel insecure about sharing them. The offspring of self-doubt, self-criticism is the resulting habit that focuses our attention on our ideas’ shortcomings, rather than on their potential. Why would anyone risk exposing their ideas to others if the voice in their head says the ideas are not good enough?
- Fear of Criticism by Others—the only thing more daunting than our own, inner-critic. This impediment is especially common in work environments. We worry about what other people – our colleagues, our superiors, or the world at large – might think about our ideas; and so we’re hesitant to say them out loud. If you’ve ever witnessed someone share their “great idea,” only to be met with blank stares, you know precisely where this fear comes from.
- Being Overly-Serious—forgetting that creativity should be a spontaneous and enjoyable process. If we’re “working” to solve a problem or tackle a challenge, we’re supposed to be serious, right? Work is serious. Many of us believe that generating ideas has to be “hard work.” After all, sometimes there’s a lot at stake. But in reality, no matter how important or critical the challenge, creative problem solving and idea generation are always more effective when approached with a sense of playfulness. In fact, some experts refer to these activities as “play with purpose.”
- Fear of Failure—that anxiety you may feel based on the possibility that your idea might actually win approval and be implemented. Now comes the pressure! Will your big idea be a hero, or a zero? Innovation is a notoriously high stakes game of uncertainty. It is impossible to foresee whether your idea, or any new idea, for that matter, will ultimate be embraced and valued by others, or ignored. Most of us long to bask in the glow of our (and our idea’s) success; but deep inside with recognize that along with all that attention comes greater scrutiny and the risk of failure.
While these five vexing impediments affect all of us from time to time, the most successful and productive creative individuals are able to adapt an attitude of fearlessness – even when surrounded by doubters and skeptics.
The best and most successful innovative thinkers simply aren’t afraid to fail. They understand that experimentation and setbacks are necessary steps on the journey to success! Thomas Edison is said to have “failed” thousands of times before finding the ideal filament material for his incandescent light bulb. Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple, only to return years later and make it the company it is today.
The trick is to learn from your “so-called” failures quickly, and then try something else, ideally something better. In fact, not only should you not be afraid of failing, you should open yourself up to the experience. Risking failure is one of the keys to being an effective creative thinker, problem-solver, and innovator. Remember, even the best major league baseball players strike out 7 out of 10 times.
Ideas – bold, game-changing ideas – are the currency of success in today’s innovation-driven marketplace. The quality of your ideas is what sets you apart from others, and what defines the value you deliver to your employer, customers, or clients.
So the next time your inner critic tells you to keep your mouth shut, politely ask it to take a hike. The world needs to hear your ideas. Be bold; don’t hold back. Start thinking like an innovator.
Who knows? You just might have the one idea that changes everything!
SmartStorming Partners Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer are experts in helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve greater business success, by applying more innovative approaches to daily business processes. Their new eCourse, “SmartStormer Innovative Thinking and Idea Generation”, is a breakthrough program designed to help anyone tackle business challenges in more innovative and productive ways. Rigie and Harmeyer are authors, speakers, consultants and trainers, with a combined 50+ years of experience working in the fields of advertising and strategic marketing communications, persuasive presentation skills, and personal development. To learn more about their programs and keynotes, visit SmartStorming.com.