Innovation Operations: Ideate
In 2021, Insight Partners published a four-part toolkit for running a successful, innovative operation—taking a new idea from inspiration to operation. The toolkit outlines how the simple act of coming up with a new idea is only just the beginning of running a lucrative business process and how many organizations fail to embed innovation throughout their culture and workflows.
We can identify the four steps within the kit as ideate, iterate, communicate, and operate. The original introduction to innovation operations can be found here. This article will be part one of our four-part series that goes into detail on each step in the chain.
Now, let’s focus on how to Ideate.
Ideating is all about coming up with fresh ideas and novel ways of looking at the same problem. We are not concerned with feasibility, the path to impact, or productivity. We are focused purely on inspiration and creativity. Our goal is to unleash innovative thinking, as an individual and as a team.
The best way to approach your role with innovation is to pay close attention to the world around you. At first, it will feel counter-intuitive in a world full of deadlines, outputs, and progress tracking, but, ultimately, it is the best method.
- Read, listen, and do not force every new piece of information or stimulus into an existing rubric.
- Expose yourself to wide and varied sources, including articles, podcasts, films, books, conferences, events, journals, and conversations.
- Make a concerted effort to meet new people from different industries and ask them about what they do.
- Listen deeply. The power of diversity lies in the collective brilliance of manifold individual life stories and experiences.
Paying genuine attention to the world around you and expanding beyond the immediate sphere of your productive output-based daily working life will soon see new ideas and approaches occurring to you. For example, reading an article on hostage negotiation might spark an idea on how to unlock that tricky client relationship, or hearing how a new acquaintance tackled competitor dynamics in their media role might inspire you with a new product marketing angle for your software business. Ideas and solutions are all around us if we pay attention.
As a leader, the best way to foster a culture of innovation is to model this curiosity and commitment to fresh thinking.
- Encourage your team to share what they are reading and consuming.
- Hold a team conversation about how individuals get energy outside of their day-to-day and push them to learn from one another.
Showing your team that you actively want them to be curious and apply what they have learned to their individual remit, rather than narrowing ideas to those already commonplace in the company or your industry, will allow you all to access an entirely new level of problem-solving and collaboration. For example, Google famously encourages its employees to “look for ideas everywhere” as a way of spurring new thinking.
In addition to encouraging contributions from diverse sources of inspiration, consider how you facilitate conversations.
- Aim to signal to your team that new ideas will be welcomed, nurtured, and rewarded. This can be difficult to do when your to-do list is running amok, and you are trying to drive your team to achieve on multiple fronts.
- If you know that your personal leadership style errs on the side of shutting down ideas, try the “Yes, and” power game outlined in Shirzad Chamine’s “Positive Intelligence.” This exercise is designed to encourage innovative discussions.
- Celebrate the power of meandering conversations and collaboration through exploration.
The more you show your team that their perspectives and performance are enriched by diverse inputs and influences, the more you will cultivate an environment where new fledgling ideas can thrive.
Save Your Energy
As you bring inspiration from the world around you to your work and encourage your team to do the same, it will be necessary to ensure that your brain is sufficiently expansive to absorb and explore the new information. If you are burnt out or overtired, your mind will revert to familiar patterns of execution, production, and next steps.
It is vital to prioritize your time and energy to utilize your mental resources sensibly and allow your brain to make connections between new inputs by giving it space to connect the dots. Five minutes of mindfulness, meditation, nature, and movement can all be powerful tools in your day to allow your brain to generate new ideas.
After reading, we hope you feel more confident on how to generate new ideas without the pressure of qualifying them or driving them to execution. At this stage, we are focused on how to create the conditions for inspiration to strike. When it does, think about how you will capture your thoughts without any pressure for it to be done in an organized manner. Aim to record the flashes of innovation as they come to you in a notebook, mind map, Monday board, or other collaboration tools. Listing without prosecuting will generate a diary of the places that you or your team look for inspiration.