March 28, 2023
Executives at every size company are looking for ways to be more effective with innovation. So, naturally, those executives hire a team of curious and inventive people to make up their research and development department. Here’s the problem with thinking a department is the sole owner of innovation: it’s unlikely that any one person (even someone on an iconic research and development team) will have all the characteristics it takes to give a company endless new, great, and reliable ideas.
The good news is that anyone can be creative and innovative. Great ideas come from everyone and everywhere. And the more innovative you can become as an individual, the more trusted you’ll become at your company to deliver big results. To do that, you have to understand your personal strengths and quirks and how you interact with other people.
Let’s take a look at how to get better at innovating as an individual, step by step.
How to become a creative person, step by step
- Assess, benchmark, and adjust
Before you know where you’re going, first you have to understand where you are to start with. Take the innovation assessment on my website to find your unique innovation archetype. There are six archetypes, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and ways of interacting with others. Once you know your archetype, I walk you through which types of situations feed your natural creative energy and which deplete you. I also help you see how your fellow archetypes can add to your creativity for maximum effectiveness.
Some things to note after you take the assessment:
- Which parts of the creative process are easier for you than others?
- How are you creative in your everyday life?
- Are you in a professional role that weighs down how you naturally show up in the world?
Next, guess the archetypes of your fellow colleagues and the people you work closely with. Take note, the archetypes that complement your style will change based on the situation. Ask yourself:
- Does knowing your archetypes change the dynamics of your relationship?
- Does it make you more willing to share ideas or champion change?
- How can you shore up their weak spots with what comes naturally to you and vice versa?
Take a few minutes to really think about this last question. It’s here that real innovative gold exists, so it’s always worth knowing how we can shore up each others’ weaknesses.
- Think big. Start small.
You might not realize it, but you’re in a serious rut. You’re used to your daily routine and focusing on efficiency. That means plenty of things have gone on autopilot. Think about it: when was the last time you took a different route on the way to work, or fixed your hair a different way, or tried a new activity on the weekends?
In our professional roles, it can feel overwhelming to think about trying to change the direction of your company all at once or all by yourself. I had a boss caution me against this early in my career: “You’ll get your arms ripped off if you try to redirect the ship too fast,” he warned.
So what can we change?
Start first with the smallest of things you regularly do: observing the world around you. For example, do you have a weekly meeting with your team or sit in on another department? Change the chair that you usually sit in. This does two things. First, it changes your own frame of reference. The lighting is different, your view is different, and the chair you’re sitting on or the wall you lean against is different. That puts your nervous system on alert and says you need to pay attention. You’ll heighten your senses and all of a sudden start noticing things that you didn’t before.
Second, it creates a ripple effect. Others have to take a different seat, and that makes them perk up. What happened? Why did Judy sit someplace else? Their whole energy changes, and one by one, everyone becomes more present and aware. They no longer move mechanically through the meetings.
Another small thing you can do: slow down and take a fresh look at the little details of your job. My husband used to work at Omaha Steaks. One of the meat cutters on the production floor started to pay attention to how much tape he used to seal boxes of steaks. One day he decided to see if, instead of closing a box shut by running tape all the way around it, would it work to stop the tape halfway down the sides? Turns out, he could. Just by him asking, “I wonder if I can do something different? I wonder if I can change that?” he ended up saving the company thousands of dollars a year just in tape. It started by taking the smallest step of observing the world around him.
- Dedicate time
People say you have to make time for innovation. I disagree. If you’re going to become a naturally creative and innovative person, you make it a priority. “Making” time implies that we can create more of something. We only have so many hours in the day and successful innovators commit to the practice.
The only thing that stands between a good idea and a great idea is time. When you’re under a deadline, your focus is so narrow that you can’t draw from a diverse pool of stimuli to help you solve problems. It’s like kinking a hose and expecting more water to come out when you have to fight a fire. That’s why ideas pop into your head in the shower, when you’re taking a run, in the middle of the night, or when you’re doing something utterly mundane. Your brain has room to travel on its nonlinear problem-solving path.
If you’re serious about becoming more creative, dedicate time to it. What gets scheduled gets done. Set aside an hour a week to review some of the observations you took or the dots you’ve connected. What ideas come to mind? How do they coincide with other ideas you’re working on? Do they inspire you to reach out to a particular person and get their input? Giving your brain dedicated time for creativity better trains it how to perform. Just like learning any new skill, when you slow the process down from the get-go, you’re able to detect the nuances. Then, as you become more proficient, you’ll perform faster and more efficiently when you’re under the pressure of a deadline.
- Embrace monotasking
People brag about their ability to multitask. But the more balls you try to keep in the air at once, the harder it is to bring out your best ideas. In fact, multitasking can decrease your productivity by a whopping 40 percent!
How many times have you gone through a meeting and then needed to have someone fill you in on the details later? That’s because you were physically there but mentally someplace else. You weren’t productive in either situation. If you’re in a meeting that needs original thinking, you have to be fully present.
If you’re constantly preoccupied, you won’t be able to be curious and find new connections between unrelated ideas (which is where many of the best ideas come from). Trying to get better results for your client project or your boss’s assignment will fail miserably. Multitasking kills the practice. Your mind needs time to settle and relax before it can take in details.
Instead of trying to do too much at once, practice monotasking: doing only one thing at a time and with deep focus. It lets your brain fully focus on one thing and gives it breadth and depth to expand. That’s when ideas pop into your head, and you come up with your brilliant ideas. Believe me, in the tech-focused, overcommitted world in which we live, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Practicing this will help slow down your mind, become more aware of the world around you, and be present in the moment. This is big stuff when it comes to building your innovation chops. Your brain needs training so it can perform just like your body does.
- Reframe failure
We have a serious hang-up with failure, especially in America. But it makes sense. From the time we’re wee ones, adults hover about, shielding us from mistakes. Don’t step in the puddle, you’ll get wet. Color inside the lines, it looks better. The sky’s blue, not orange. Parents and teachers shroud us with messages of be careful, be careful, be careful.
In her Harvard commencement speech, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.” If you want to become a successful innovator, you have to accept that not everything will work out like you planned. One of the key steps in innovating is coming up with as many ideas as you can, because not all of them will fly. More than you want to admit will die in committee. Some won’t have the right timing. Others won’t make the cut because they simply won’t turn out to be reliable. You’re guaranteed to have some level of failure. How do you deal with that?
First, change your lingo. The word failure makes people shudder. Instead of saying you failed, repackage it and say you tested a couple of ideas, and here’s what you learned. That not only eases your fears of delivering a not-so-successful message; it perks up your listeners’ ears. People like to know what you learned because it may help them get better at something they do. Lessons have broad appeal.
Testing helps you build momentum for change by lowering the level of perceived risk people have. Talking about a test opens up room for something to happen, for change. It lets people know that you can always go back to how things were before if the changes don’t work out. That makes trying something new less permanent. Try a small test for two weeks, then get back together and discuss what happened. Did it work? Can you massage what you’re testing to get better results? Or do you really need to go back to how things were?
Whatever you try may not be the change you needed. But the mere process of trying shakes the system enough to create momentum for something new to happen.
Whether your goal is as big as changing the direction of your company or as small as changing the amount of tape you use to close a box, everyone can come up with great ideas. To be a more creative and innovative person, we have to understand where we’re starting from. Take the innovation archetype assessment to get a feel for where you’re starting. From there, the possibilities are endless.