5 Things You Need to Do to Become an Innovator

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Have you ever wondered how people like Steve Jobs, AG Lafley (former P&G CEO), Pierre Omidyar (founder Ebay) and Thomas Edison came up with those disruptive innovations that changed the world?

Based on the extensive research of three globally renowned management experts: Clayton Christensen (of Harvard) Jeffrey Dyer (of Mariott School BYU) & Hal Gregersen (of INSEAD) disruptive innovators have certain behavioural traits and do specific things that help them to arrive at world changing innovations. (Source: Innovators’ DNA)

So here’s the good news. Just do these five things and you are on the way to becoming an innovator.

Here goes…

#1: OBSERVE to Innovate

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Do you have your eyes open to what’s happening around you in the world – in business and life?

Innovators keep on observing products, customers, problems, new developments – related to their company, competitors, ‘unrelated’ industries and the world at large. Ratan Tata got the inspiration for a highly affordable car (the Nano!) when he observed a family of four riding a scooter in the rain.

So what can you observe? Start with different departments within your company. How about keeping your eyes more open to the world in general- how people live? Signboards, malls, people shopping, eating, working, travelling – just about anything at all.

Remember – whatever you see can be tied back to your business in some way or the other. The trick lies in making that one connect which sparks an idea!

#2:QUESTION to Innovate

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Do you question the status quo? Do you keep asking ‘why’, ‘why not’, ‘what if’? Do you have trouble accepting things as they are?

Innovators are always asking questions. Disruptive innovators ask questions that people often find stupid, a waste of time, or even crazy. Remember Newton – “Why did the apple fall downwards?” This question was pretty much crazy to everyone in the year 1650.

AG Lafley (former P&G CEO) encouraged questions like, “What kind of experience does the customer really want?” – questions which P&G used to develop several highly profitable innovations. 

You can begin by questioning the way you work – yourself, your team and your organization. Ask yourself why you do things this way? What is the end goal? What other ways are there to achieve the same goal more easily?

#3: NETWORK to Innovate

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Do you network with various people from diverse backgrounds?

Networking exposes you to different thoughts, ideas, perspectives, knowledge, problems and solutions. Pierre Omidyar (founder Ebay), says that he looks for insights from people who are not experts, like a mailroom employee. Michael Lazardis (founder Blackberry) was inspired at a trade show by a wireless system for Coca Cola vending machines.

Start attending more networking events which are not related to your industry. If you are an HR professional, attend startup events.
Don’t have time? At least join some interesting groups on FaceBook or LinkedIn. 

 #4: EXPERIMENT to Innovate

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Do you try out new things, new ways of doing things and explore roads less travelled?

Innovation requires you to experiment, often without expecting success or a result. Thomas Edison had to experiment with more than a thousand attempts before he finally invented the light bulb. Steve Jobs took calligraphy classes after he dropped out of college. This useless activity helped him to design beautiful fonts for the Mac computer years later.You still see the legacy in the iPhone that you may be using right now.

You don’t have to be a lab geek to experiment! Just start trying out new things at work and in life! Have some Japanese food!

These seemingly meaningless activities actually open you up to experimentation more and taking risks. Go ahead – propose a new initiative at work – so what if it fails? Failure is inevitable for innovators.
What if Edison had given up trying to invent the bulb after 3, 10 or even 100 failed attempts? 

 #5: ASSOCIATE to Innovate

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Can you connect seemingly unrelated problems, questions or ideas and come up with an innovative solution?

Steve Jobs got the idea of the GUI (icons, menus, windows) from his visit to the Xerox research center. He realized that this new technology was perfect for his idea of ‘a computer for ordinary people’ – easy to learn & use – and the Mac was invented!

The more you Observe, Question, Network and Experiment, the easier it will be for you to “connect the dots” – make associations and come up with innovative ideas.

That’s it! It’s not rocket science at all. In fact, in the innovation training programs that I deliver, plenty of people use innovation tools to come up with interesting ideas – people from whom you would never expect a creative solution!

Start doing these things and who knows?  You just might come across an idea that may dramatically change the world!

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