The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
The Competitive Advantage of an Innovation-Focused Culture
If there was ever a time where we as business people need to think outside the box, it’s during the current pandemic. The world is in a state of flux, and our customers are desperately trying to make sense of a changing reality. Not only do we have the pandemic to deal with, but we are also going through a period of immense social and technological change, which has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
How do we prepare ourselves and our companies for the future when we have little idea what that future might be? And, even if we hazard a guess, it’s likely to change the minute we begin to make plans. Today’s companies have to constantly reinvent themselves, their products and services, and the way they operate within their market. Sitting back and doing the same things we’ve always done will mean falling rapidly behind our competitors.
Creating an environment that encourages your employees to come up with creative and innovative ideas will become increasingly vital. Employees who continually look for new ways to do things, as the world constantly morphs into something new, will be a valuable currency. With significant change comes great opportunity. Understanding what impact change will have on your company is the first step to recognizing its opportunities. Many companies continually react to the negative symptoms of change – they are always in firefighting mode. Others are like surfers, anticipating the wave, waiting for it, preparing to ride it no matter how volatile it turns out to be.
The LinkedIn Learning 2020 Workplace Learning Report listed creativity as the number one soft skill most needed by companies. The top five soft skills included persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. These are all skills related to how people work together and generate new ideas.
Professional services giant, PwC, reported in its 20th CEO Survey that the number one priority for CEOs was to strengthen innovation within their companies to allow them to capitalize on opportunities. At the same time, they reported finding it challenging to find the creativity and innovation skills they required. When these skills are in short supply, there is even more reason to develop them internally by creating a culture based on creativity and innovation.
As the business world increasingly turns to machines and software to solve its problems and advance, the one thing machines can’t replicate (at least not yet) is the creativity and innovation that come from collaborative spirit and passion.
Creating an innovation-focused work environment can take many forms and be formal or informal. For small businesses, it’s easier and often more effective to take the informal route. First, encourage your employees to come forward with their thoughts about your business ensuring them that there are no dumb ideas and that you will be receptive to whatever they bring to you. Second, empower your employees to make decisions and think independently. It may be necessary to have some guidelines, boundaries, and expectations around this, but try to make them less restrictive rather than more. Third, there is no innovation without failure. Expect it, respect it, and be at peace with it because fear will destroy a developing culture of innovation.
Innovative and creative thinking is often generated through group brainstorming sessions. While these sessions are valuable, you should also encourage non-competitive individual brainstorming to generate ideas that can be shared later with the larger group. Individual brainstorming provides more reserved employees with much-needed psychological safety to be creative. When these ideas are subsequently shared with the larger group, others can build from them. Too often, especially if we are trying to solve a problem, we jump on what appears to be a great solution only to discover that it leads to further problems down the road. Push for more ideas, even after what seems to be a satisfactory solution has been found. First ideas rarely offer a perfect solution, so allow time for maturation.
Remember, always divorce idea generation from criticism, however constructive. Critical analysis is beneficial but only when offered alongside potential solutions.
Creating a culture of innovation within your company will make you more competitive. It will fuel growth, encourage positive change, focus you and your staff on constant improvement, and prepare you for whatever the next wave brings.
The Energizer Bunny and You
COVID has been an energy drain. We are all feeling exhausted, and there is only a glimmer of hope that the pandemic will become endemic, meaning we have finally learned to live with the awful virus. Even then, the new normal might not be a whole lot different from the mess we are currently dealing with daily.
COVID is not the only energy drain we have to endure. Many things wear us down every day, sapping our energy and deflating us. Then there are the things that give us a boost, refuel our power packs, and allow us to continue to function.
If you feel exhausted all the time, it’s probably because your life is a little off-balance, out of kilter. The test below will help you identify the things that deflate you and those that recharge your batteries. If you can identify the things that drain you of energy and those that give you power, you may be able to restore balance to your life.
This is an interactive article, so grab a pen and jot down your answers to the following questions.
- What do you procrastinate about doing?
- What activities do you dread?
- What do people have to nag you to do?
- What do you least want to do when you have a free day?
- What makes time drag?
- What activities do you feel are a waste of time?
- What are you doing when you lose track of time?
- What do you choose to do when you are feeling tired or down?
- What do you choose to do when you are feeling energetic?
- What activities do you most enjoy sharing with others?
- What do you do that gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
- What activity first comes to mind when you plan a day off?
Once you’ve answered all the questions, grab your calendar and look at last week. In red ink, mark down all the things you did on your first list, those things that drained your energy. Now using green ink, do the same using the energy gain list. Are you seeing a sea of red ink? How is your balance? How out of kilter are you? Are you running on fumes?
Now repeat the process using the coming week on your calendar. How is that looking? Just as bad? If so, add some energy gain activities in your week and try for a better balance. A better balance will give you more energy to do the things on your energy drain list, making you more productive. It’s a win-win!
Coach's Corner - What’s Holding You Back?
How would you answer the question: what’s holding you back? For many people, the reply is tied to feelings psychologists refer to as imposter syndrome.
If you feel like you don’t actually deserve the position you hold, or that you’re not good enough to be in graduate studies, or that you don’t warrant the successes attributed to you, you are not alone. Seventy percent of the population have experienced these thoughts at some point. It may be that it is these thoughts and feelings that are holding you back.
“Impostor syndrome can apply to anyone who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes.” - Audrey Ervin Psychologist.
In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, Valerie Young outlined five patterns of people who have experienced impostor syndrome. Although her book was published in 2011, the phenomenon was first introduced in the late 70’s. It affects a wide variety of men and women from all walks of life.
Four personalities prone to impostor syndrome
Perfectionists set extremely high expectations for themselves and feel they have failed when they don’t meet the perfection they envisioned. They hold back because they won’t accept mistakes.
Experts feel they need to know every piece of information before they start a project. They hold back because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.
Natural Geniuses hold back because they aren’t used to struggling to accomplish tasks.
Soloists need to accomplish things by themselves. They hold back because they won’t ask for help or advice.
Four Ways to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
Acknowledgement. Learn to recognize and acknowledge imposter syndrome thoughts and then ask yourself, is this thought holding me back?
Reframing Your Thoughts. Once you recognize an imposter syndrome pattern occurring, try to think like someone who you believe is not an imposter.
Asking for Help. Imposter syndrome often makes you feel alone and isolated. Reach out and seek assistance. If you are in a team environment, by not asking for help you are holding the team back.
Practicing the Skill. Overcoming imposter syndrome takes time. It is like any other skill you want to master.
If Impostor Syndrome is holding you back, look at what you have accomplished over the years. Your past accomplishments and successes demonstrate that you are a competent and capable individual. You are not an impostor.
Paul Abra, Motivated Coaching