Innovation is a messy business. Most companies already know that they need it to survive; many keep plugging along, hoping that the challenges they face will solve themselves. That’s not a sustainable strategy. Another challenge with innovation is that it doesn’t always follow a predictable pattern, making it hard to replicate. It’s also inherently risky in that the results are often hard to track. Last year, we all got to experience what can happen when your world suddenly gets turned upside down. The pandemic forced all of us out of our comfort zones and required us to think differently. Both people and businesses had to rapidly deploy new approaches and strategies while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy, and last year was anything but normal.
New York Times Best-Selling Author Steven Johnson, who penned the book, ‘Where Good Ideas Come From,’ wrote, ” If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.”
Whenever you find yourself facing a challenge where you need to reinvent yourself or the way you do business, you can expect to feel a certain amount of anxiety and frustration. Interestingly, those are the same ingredients needed to spark a creative mindset, which is what you’ll need to solve a challenge when the odds are stacked against you. Visionary leaders know that the solution to these challenging times often can be found by setting up an environment for people to feel comfortable sharing new ideas. Sir Richard Branson, no stranger to creativity and innovation, having started more than 400 companies worldwide, said, “Innovation happens when people are given the freedom to ask questions and the resources and power to find the answers.”
For any idea to have a chance of surviving, a couple of steps need to happen. First, somebody needs to have the courage to share the idea or thought. Second, there needs to be a clearly defined path on how to bring the idea to life. Third, and probably most important, the team understands that there’s a chance the idea may not work. That last step is essential because if the concept fails to generate a result, and remember, most don’t, the person that had the original idea should not be made to feel marginalized. The worst thing any leader can do in that situation is to stigmatize a mistake. That’s the best way to shut down any future innovation. Instead, you regroup, you learn from it, and you move on.
David Kidder, CEO of Bionic, a company that works with other companies to unlock growth mindsets, agrees, “You can’t say to someone, ‘I want you to think differently, work differently, behave differently—and then say, ‘Go back to your desk.’ It doesn’t square with the idea that we want you to create growth. As founders and as leaders, we need to alter people’s environments to change the way people think and create.”
British Soap Company LUSH created ’30-Second Soap’; a self-timing soap designed to dissolve away after 30 seconds of vigorous use. The idea is that the soap tells you how long you should wash your hands. Rather brilliant when you think about it, and yet it took the pandemic to bring this idea into the light. So simple, yet so perfect in every way.
Albert Einstein captures the essence of innovation perfectly in this quote, “Innovation is not the product of rational thought, even though the final product is tied to a logical structure. Transformative ideas come in all shapes and sizes and often through trial and error. I hope that the innovation the pandemic inspired continues. My wish is that even though last year was not what any of us ever expected could happen, that you were able to use the downtime to your advantage by adopting new approaches and strategies to both your business and personal life. After all, life isn’t going to get any easier, but your ability to move through the adversity when it arrives is the one guaranteed way that I know of to drive real change and innovation.