Where do innovative ideas come from? How can organizations and individuals become more innovative? This is an ongoing question in organizations large and small, from business, to government, to high-tech start-ups. My experience and research in this area have taught me a few things about innovation.
First and foremost, innovation is an ongoing daily practice. You cannot just walk into a brainstorming meeting with no preparation and all of a sudden start to innovate. Instead, you have to change your way of thinking, and look at innovation as something that you do every day, as part of your daily life. Here are a few tips on how to do this:
- Practice asking questions instead of immediately coming up with solutions.
- Keep up with the latest innovations in your industry, but also branch out and find out what is going on in other industries or technologies. Innovations often come from using existing technologies or solutions in a different way or in a different industry, or recombining multiple existing innovations.
- Encourage your inherent curiosity about the world around you. Go to new places, go to events or conferences about industries or technologies that are not directly related to your area, and connect with a diversity of people.
- Ask yourself what you can learn from everyone you meet: ideas often are generated from a chance encounter.
- Take a tour (in-person or virtual) of a company in a different industry, and see what you can apply within your organization.
- Start an Ideas Notebook (on your tablet or smartphone so it is always with you): take note of any ideas that you have every day. Thomas Edison had 3,500 of these ideas notebooks throughout his life.
- Pay attention to the environment and time of day when you are most creative: many people get their best ideas on a walk, or in the shower.
- Play and be visual with your ideas: draw a picture, or build a working prototype.
Innovation is a life-long learning process, and if we truly want to be innovative, we have to learn and play and question every day. Fortunately this is also a lot of fun, and once you get started, you may find that it becomes a way of life.