Organizations are being challenged, more and more, to bring innovation to life. So much so, we’ve seen the birth of the Chief Innovation Officer. This is great, in that it shows an organizational commitment to forward thinking. However, to many of us, it also brings about feelings of inadequacy, that only a select few digital natives, rooted in technology and emerging trends, are capable of driving innovation forward. You know, the people who can tell someone how artificial intelligence works just as easy as they could tell that person how to get to the nearest coffee shop.
Well, innovation doesn’t have to be that intimidating. It starts with defining a problem, glaring or nuanced, and then assembling and inspiring a diverse, and maybe unexpected, team to brainstorm solutions. You don’t have to be the one with all the answers, you just have to be the one that can think critically about your business challenges, be a champion for your customers, and believe in the power of the individual thinkers within your organization.
Bring more rigor to problem definition
At its core, innovation solves problems. It can certainly solve immediate, glaring issues. But, innovation also challenges the status quo and pushes us to identify problems before they surface, bringing truly forward-thinking solutions. When you are working with a glaring issue, pause and evaluate if you’ve really identified the root problem. Talk to people, have a meeting, and don’t rush to solve the first problem presented. Try listing out all issues that come to mind. Do you see a pattern? Are you able to see a common contributing force?
Even if there isn’t a glaring problem, there can be tremendous power in bringing together leaders from different teams and departments to talk about challenges and their perceptions of the customer experience. You may be surprised by the level of empathy you’re able to feel with your customers and the level of connectivity among challenges throughout the organization. Once a problem is clearly defined, you can start to think about it more deeply in context to your customer and business. Innovation at its best takes into account usability, desirability, viability and feasibility. Ultimately, it makes sure that the solution is something that is valuable and desirable for consumers, viable for the business (think: it can work operationally) and looks to technology to find a creative way to make it possible.
Assemble a truly diverse team
James Surowiecki, author of “The Wisdom of Crowds,” explored the power of group decision making and cautioned leaders of engaging a team of focused subject matter experts: “Groups that are too much alike find it harder to keep learning, because each member is bringing less and less new information to the table. Homogeneous groups are great at doing what they do well, but they become progressively less able to investigate alternatives.” Instead, he stressed the importance of diversity and independent thinking to maximize the collective intelligence of a group: “Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.” Sure, invite that person who gives the really good explanation of artificial intelligence (and coffee shop directions). But, also follow these tenets of diversity of opinion:
- Race, Gender and Lifestyle: Include people who see and experience the world differently.
- Skill Set and Department: Include people who have very different roles throughout the organization and possess a variety of skill sets, even if they feel somewhat unexpected for the challenge at hand.
- Seniority: Include junior, middle management and leadership teams who experience your organization and customer from different angles.
Don’t brainstorm without a brief and workshop
As a meeting organizer, it’s your responsibility to ground everyone in the problem and also craft a story about the customer experience. Your goal is to make sure everyone is aligned in your mission and feels deeply connected with how your customer experiences the brand. But, that doesn’t mean your brief has to be all business – make it fun. Include GIFs to communicate the customer’s mindset. Make image-driven slides and challenge yourself to do more storytelling than slide reading. Also, think about how you can keep participants engaged through a workshop or activity that facilitates idea-sharing. Resources like Gamestorming
, offer many unique ways to keep your meetings dynamic and open.
Give everyone a voice
If you assemble a truly diverse group, you’re likely to have a room full of different personalities and unique preferences and communication styles. Successful collaboration will require emotional intelligence. Borrow from a tactic employed by female staffers within the Obama administration called amplification
- repeating the ideas of minority opinions out loud, giving credit to the author. Originally aimed at amplifying female points of view, this tactic can also be put into practice to help support broader diversity of opinion and empower junior-level team members who may be less comfortable speaking up. Also, encourage small team breakouts and follow-ups based on independent thinking. According to our own expert, Sandra Younan, this tactic can be a powerful tool to activate introvert personalities
that may not be the loudest voice in a group brainstorm.
Combat groupthink with private evaluation
Once there is a collection of potential solutions, it’s important that all members of the team are empowered to share their unbridled opinions. Even in the most trusting and supportive of groups, it’s still valuable to create a private forum to share feedback, play devil’s advocate and vote on top ideas. That way, the group can effectively combat groupthink and ensure the best ideas are armed with defenses against any potential hurdles.
Now, we can’t always make grand, sweeping changes in how a business operates. But it’s easy for us to start applying these principles to our existing meetings and work toward a more innovative future vision. Gradually, carve out more dedicated time to discuss innovation and consider implementing annual meetings dedicated to challenging the status quo. Trust that innovation does not fall in the hands of a select few and feel empowered knowing that any member of an organization can facilitate innovative thinking and truly harness the power of the unique thinkers brought together within your company walls.
For more tips and insights on how to take your marketing from now to next, subscribe to our newsletter or contact Nicole Stone – Senior Vice President, Business Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414.270.7235.