The pace of change in the business environment is increasing all the time. These days employers are always on the look out for innovators that can contribute to helping their business set the trends and lead the way, instead of always being on the back foot. It is mandatory nowadays that businesses think constantly about implementing new ideas in their companies, creating new, dynamic products, or improving the existing services, accompanying the incredibly quick changes that happen in technology.
But first of all it can be useful to think about what innovation really signifies: to innovate means to introduce changes in something already established, particularly by bringing new methods, ideas, or products. The synonyms of innovation are reorganization, restructuring, rearrangement, recasting, renovation.
The ultimate goal of innovation in businesses, is to find better links between your business and your processes, systems, products and services. Sometimes companies fear that an innovative solution will increase expense, but actually it can cut costs, if one opts to innovate wisely, by adapting to your business existing processes and technologies.
Another advantage of innovative solutions is that they will anticipate the organization needs for tomorrow, as you will have to think carefully and in detail about what will be the challenges that your organization might face in the future, when searching for the alternatives that evade conventional requirements strategies.
Innovation is not the same as invention. Most innovations adapt already existing ideas or tools, looking for their most effective recombination. Take the example of the great inventors of the beginning of XXth century, such as The Lumiere Brothers, or Thomas Edison, which are some of the most praised inventors of our era. Looking at their inventions through a different stance, we can see how the objects and technologies they came up with were recombinations of existing ideas and products. That was the case of the light bulb, X-rays, the phonograph and cinema. The lesson coming from these historical examples, is that most of the elements you need for your next innovation are available to you right now, particularly if you have a precise vision of what do you want, where to find it and how to recombine it.
Even though there is no “innovation process”, there are techniques, tools and strategies you can use so you can learn how to innovate and to become more creative. There has been much debate about whether the ability to innovate exists from birth, or whether it is something a person can learn over time. Research from Harvard by Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen suggests it can be learned, and Dyer (2009) says of innovation:
“The good news is if you’re not born with it, you can cultivate it”.
Good news indeed for would-be innovators, but what skills should you actually cultivate to find a job in innovation? Here are the top 7 skills that got people hired in innovation:
1. Curiosity – innovators are inquisitive people. They want to know why something works the way it does, and they ask lots of questions. They always ask themselves, “How can this be done better/faster/more elegantly/cheaper?” (Among others. They have so many questions).
2. Imagination – those that succeed with innovation are not constrained within the parameters of what already exists or what can already be seen to be possible. They think big, and they think outside the box.
3. Research – great innovators understand that research is essential to success in this challenging field. They research long and hard and with a commitment to finding the answers that they need to be able to offer ground breaking new ideas to their organisations through understanding what has been done before and how it could be bettered.
4. Resilient – good innovators know that even though their ideas are fabulous, not all of their ideas will get off the ground, and maybe most of them will not. They are resilient, and with each setback they pick themselves up and keep going forward.
5. Can-do approach – innovators are expected to come up with new concepts even when the remit seems impossible and the boundaries too high. Nonetheless, innovators tackle each new challenge with a “can do” approach. They explore the possibilities rather than rejecting an idea as crazy. “Can’t” doesn’t enter their vocabulary.
6. Communicative – having all the most amazing and innovative ideas in the world won’t help if you can’t communicate them to others. The ability to be able to explain new concepts to others and to be patient when they do not automatically “get it” first time is essential. Communication skills are necessary both verbally and in writing, as you’ll have to be able to get points across both ways to win people over to your ideas.
7. Embraces the new – innovators are not Luddites, rather they are early adopters. They jump on new concepts and new technologies, eager to understand how they work and always questioning how they can be done better. They are always willing to take on board new ideas, however outlandish those ideas might be.Illustration by Paul Foreman
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.