“Play is training for the unexpected.” -Marc Bekoff
Over the last several years, we’ve heard so often that times are uncertain and rapidly changing; it’s starting to feel a bit old, right?
Like it or not, most of us would agree that we’re living in wild times.
Innovation…and a Curious Corporate Trend in the Post-COVID Era
Most leaders recognize that innovation and change are inextricably linked, yet a curious trend has emerged in a post-COVID world:
“When faced with unwanted change, leaders sometimes abandon innovation for the familiar. And lately, leaders have been confronted with almost non-stop change,” writes Dylan Taylor in Fast Company.
Indeed, innovation is a sore subject at many companies: McKinsey’s research found that 94% of executives they surveyed were not satisfied with their company’s innovative performance.
How, then, can today’s leaders flex with the times while continuing to drive the innovation essential to survival in an increasingly competitive business world?
Think outside the box for the creative answer…
Therein lies the key to successful innovation. But first, leaders must cultivate a workplace atmosphere of lightness where creativity can find the freedom it needs to emerge.
In all of my workshops, music has a big role…why? Because in moving to the beat – however fast or slow it may be – we shift more into our right brains. This is where our creativity and intuition – keys to innovation – reside. It’s not that we don’t need the logic which lies in our left brains (of course we do!), it’s just that many of us try to access innovation from a place of reason – which doesn’t make sense (lol).
“Innovation is creativity with a job to do.” – John Emmerling
Here are 3 more helpful hints any leader can start implementing as soon as today.
1. Lay a Foundation of Trust in the Workplace.
Before people can feel free and encouraged to bring their unique humanness into the workplace, it’s up to leaders to establish a learning culture that is psychologically safe for all.
In a Forbes article called “How Can Leaders Unlock the Creativity Of Their Teams?”, author Sally Percy explains exactly what the term “psychological safety” means. It’s pretty simple: “it refers to an organizational context where people feel safe to take risks and make mistakes.”
To build this into the workplace, start with a foundation of trust and mutual respect – consider this a prerequisite to creativity, which ultimately fosters innovation. Here are some pointers:
- Listen loudly, speak softly: be present in conversations.
- Be open and vulnerable so others feel like they can approach you.
- Admit your humanness as a leader (i.e., no one can know it all).
- Leverage mistakes as powerful learning opportunities.
2. Challenge convention.
That coveted atmosphere of lightness where team members and leaders alike feel the freedom to play (and innovate) never comes with the hum-drum of an “It’s always been done this way” mentality. At every turn, we leaders must challenge the rut of worn-out corporate “norms.” To do so, follow these 3 tips:
- Encourage honest dialogue so people can discuss – and reflect – as a team. It’s easy for leaders to fall into the status trap where they feel almost required to keep “everything” “on track” according to a narrow viewpoint of how they think things should be. This instantly cuts off innovation. Instead, lightness shines when people get curious and feel comfortable openly sharing their thoughts. This is where the necessity for role-modeling and a strong level of trust comes in: people will not be open if they fear there will be consequences to their words. But when they see us as leaders sharing honestly, it helps them let their guard down, too.
- Watch out for pre-conceived judgments that stifle creativity. Brainstorming is key to innovation. This can be a tough one for leaders to follow, because it’s so easy to make (often erroneous) assumptions. Here’s where self-reflection is beneficial – take a few minutes out each day to reflect on how you interacted with others. Would you have done anything different? How did your judgements influence a situation you encountered?
- Be agile enough to think long- and short-term to stay grounded. When times are changing as rapidly as they are, it’s easy to fall into a trap of the break/fix mentality. We get caught up in the moment, our vision clouded to the bigger picture. That’s not how true innovation is fostered. The most impactful leaders can switch between long- and short-term visioning to focus on what is strategically the best and most impactful steps toward getting there.
3. Make time for innovation – and reward it.
It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? But often there’s a disconnect: many organizations say they value innovation, yet they aren’t actually making the time for it.
In a timeless article called “Creating a Culture of Innovation Starts With the Leader”, author Ric Kelly gives examples of what can happen when a company creates the space needed for innovation:
- 3M debuted its 15 percent program back in 1948 – 15% of employees’ time was devoted to innovation. The infamous Post-It note was a byproduct of this. Who knew?!
- Other well-known organizations found similar success. Google, for instance, birthed Gmail and Google Earth during their 20% time…
Every leader wants innovation, but we have to be willing to actively promote it as a routine practice – in literally every aspect of corporate life. For instance, encourage employees to go through their day with an “innovative lens” to see how even ordinary tasks might be improved.
Also, very importantly: remember to acknowledge people for their ideas! From a simple thank you and some genuine dialogue with a team member to monetary compensation and even gifting (like Zappos does), we must reward others for their contributions. This, in turn, fosters a continual prosperous cycle of lightness and innovation.
“I want to put a Ding! In the Universe.” – Steve Jobs
If you want to get a ding! in your own leadership walk: Sign up here to access my FREE Weekly Bolder Moves, delivered fresh to your inbox every Tuesday.
Colleen Slaughter, Proud Executive Coach to the UN World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
As an Executive Coach for Women in Leadership and Transformational Facilitator, my intention is to help leaders in positions of high influence to understand their worth at a profound level.
Supporting women leaders to truly thrive and step into their greatness, while succeeding in male-dominated industries and spaces is my native genius.
My technique and approach show you how to achieve incredible career success without compromising any part of who you are and what makes you magnificent.