If you want to move ahead at work, you’ve got to do more than just what you’re expected to do.
After all, that’s what you get paid for — your company pays you to show up and do what they ask you to do.
If you want to get more more, you have to earn more — and that means doing more.
But doing more isn’t always easy. After all, if you’re stepping outside of what your boss is telling you to do, how do you know if you’re doing the right thing? How do you even come up with ideas for what you should be doing?
Innovation is one of the hallmarks of leadership, and it’s a hard thing to learn how to do effectively. Not every idea you have will be a great one, and not every idea will be accepted by the people you work with, either.
But we all know that innovators are leaders, and they are the people who get to work on the most interesting projects, they have their ideas listened to, and they are influencers on any team they join.
So how can you get better at innovation? Practice, practice, practice.
Popforms shares 6 simple ways for you to practice and become the smartest, most innovative person in the room. Once you learn how to think like an innovator, you can innovate on a larger scale and start doing the kinds of things that earn promotions, get you raises, and help you lead amazing teams that do amazing things.
1. Take your innovation down a notch
Not every idea you have has to be a huge, company-changing idea. In fact, it’s a lot easier to practice innovating on a way smaller scale at first, while you train yourself to think like an innovator.
Look at little things you can do to change or improve your own process. What if you came in 15 minutes earlier so you could organize your desk and to-do list before you’re swept away to meetings all day? What if you set up an email autoresponder letting people know you’ll only be checking messages once a day, so you’re not tied to your email all day?
It’s way easier to solve your own small problems than to try to tackle huge product changes at first. The more you practice looking for inefficiencies and problems, the better you get at identifying them and creating realistic solutions. So start by examining your own life (since it’s one area you know very well), and you will get tons of opportunities to practice innovating and improving, little by little.
2. Ask questions to help other people innovate
A great way to practice innovation is to do it with other people. And one of the best ways to make it happen is to start asking questions. Next time you’re in a meeting, try asking questions to help people come up with solutions (rather than trying to quickly come up with an answer or solution of your own).
- “Have you thought about…?”
- “What if you tried…?”
- “If you could only fix one part of this problem at a time, which one would you choose first?”
- “Are there other people on our team who might be able to help?”
This strategy means you can practice innovation without ever having to come up with a solution all on your own. Instead, you can learn to be the person who facilitates good ideas in others – which is an even more powerful skill to have.
Questions also help you collect information. Even if the other person says “no, that wouldn’t work” to all of your question-suggestions, their “no” is still valuable information for them and for you.
Don’t get offended; rather, use that answer to inform your next questions so you can continue getting closer to a solution, by asking “why?” or asking another question to lead them to a different possibility.
3. “Help me help you.”
You don’t have to create every great idea you come up with out of thin air. In fact, it’s much more effective to ask people what they’re having problems with and then set your mind to creating some solutions.
When you’re doing a 1:1 with your boss, an employee, or even just chatting with a coworker, try asking, “What’s the biggest problem you’re having this week?” or “What’s really been blocking you recently?” or “What’s the biggest issue facing our team right now?”.
People love being asked what they’re working on and having someone who is really interested in hearing about their problems, their questions, and the roadblocks that are keeping them from being productive. We all feel stress about this, and being able to talk to someone about it who genuinely wants to know tends to endear the listener to us.
So it’s not just a great way to get ideas, but also to build trust and establish yourself as a friendly presence in your teammates’ minds.
Plus, by listening to their problems you can make connections with your own knowledge and work, and begin to percolate on possible solutions for them.
(As above, try giving your advice as a series of questions, rather than just giving them your opinion. You’ll still get credit for helping them come up with a great solution, and they’ll be much more likely to act on it if they feel like they came up with the idea themselves.)
4. Study something you know nothing about
As you advance in your career, your knowledge tends to get more and more specialized. While this makes you an expert (and that’s a good thing), it also means you tend to close off other kinds of thinking and knowledge.
Breaking out of your specialty from time to time can fire up your brain and make you more creative. If you’re an engineer, read a marketing blog. If you’re a salesperson, try a short course on how to build a website. You’ll make connections you never would have otherwise.
Learning about new things makes you smarter — and I can guarantee nobody from another department will be mad if you get better at understanding what they do all day.
The more you know about other topics besides your area of expertise, the more information you’ll have to make connections with.
You can even think through hypotheticals, and then study possible solutions to get the right answer. Try thinking about:
- How would you make a refrigerator more efficient?
- If you had to get $ 10,000 by the end of this week, how would you do it?
- If you could have a software tool fix one major problem in your life, what problem would it solve and what would it do?
By getting out of your normal role, where you’re expected to have right answers most of the time, brainstorming and innovating in a new category can boost your creativity, since you aren’t constrained by the boundaries of “being a professional” there.
5. Come up with 3 terrible ideas.
I spoke to a consultant once who told me his secret for innovation: bad ideas.
He told me about a time that he led a brainstorming session for a group of executives who were completely stuck. They couldn’t find a good solution, and since no one had any good ideas to say, no one said anything at all. The meeting hit a complete roadblock.
So this consultant said, “I want each of you to give me your three WORST solutions for this problem. I want to hear the craziest, most impossible solution you can come up with.”
By relieving the pressure of needing to be right, the executives got creative and loosened up having fun being wrong. They were laughing at each other’s suggestions, and suddenly the conversation started flowing again.
Creativity doesn’t always flow, and being self-aware when you’re blocked is a key to being a good innovator. Next time you’re stuck or feeling uncreative, try coming up with 3 terrible ideas. Odds are, once you’ve kicked out the cobwebs by just coming up with *something* (even if it’s crazy), you’ll have gotten your brain back in the groove and the good ideas will come back.
6. Make an appointment for quiet thinking time
Growing your skills requires focused, quiet time where you do nothing but hone in on innovating and problem-solving.
Set a weekly appointment with yourself, and keep it just like you would any other important meeting. After all, skipping this meeting is only hurting yourself and depriving yourself of important, productive time. Think of it like an investment. If you skip it, you may get other things done faster now; but if you keep it, though, you’ll get so much more done (and get so many more rewards) in the long run.
With this time, go over any big problems or roadblocks you’re facing. Write them down. Then start brainstorming solutions.
If you’re a manager, you can also use this time to go over your team’s problems. What have you learned in your 1:1s this week? Are there problems that keep coming up that you should get to the root of? What processes could be better?
Finally, spend some time thinking about your goals. Where are you going? Are you still on track to achieve your goals, or have you gotten sidetracked? If you’ve gotten distracted, why did that happen? How can you avoid those distractions in the future – or, should you rethink your goals to align with your new interests?