October 15, 2013

The Innovation Framework: 3 Tips to Initiate Positive Change

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One of the things that I have always loved about working at CLEARLINK is the freedom to innovate. Every day, I feel blessed to be surrounded by people who understand the importance of audacious ideas, and I truly believe that our culture of innovation is one of—if not the most—important factors behind our success.

I’d like to share with you an abridged framework for innovation, and some actionable tips and resources to aid you in your journey towards becoming a wellspring of change within (and hopefully beyond!) your department.


Allow yourself to be creative.

We have whole groups of people that we refer to as “the Creatives.” It’s entirely their job to come up with the radical new ideas, right? Nope.

The truth is, there is no monopoly on creativity. Everyone, from building maintenance to accounting is capable of, and benefits from, creative thinking and novel approaches. If you need additional encouragement in this area, our own Tanner Christensen has an entire blog devoted to the subject.

“Originality is undetected plagiarism.” – William Ralph Inge

The best ideas aren’t typically just pulled, fully formed, from the void, but rather a result of combining, applying, or improving upon existing concepts in new and interesting ways. You don’t need to start from scratch. Start with what is already out there, and see where you can take it.

Seek inspiration.

Figure out what gets your neurons firing, and then surround yourself with it. Whether it’s particular people, music, websites, books, shows, topiaries, or anything else, make time to intentionally expose yourself to them on a regular basis. Some of my personal favorites are The Verge, Brain Pickings, Seth Godin, Hacker News, and Reddit.


Share your ideas.

Cultivate a core group of people that you can trust to provide constructive feedback and share your idea with them. Often, just the process of articulating your thoughts for someone else will reveal oversights and help you tighten up your ideas for presentation to a larger audience. Even the best writers have editors.

Prove your premise.

If you’re proposing large-scale change or something that will require significant resources, you’ll want to figure out a way to validate it without a huge upfront commitment. This proof of concept can be competitors’ actions, the success of others in analogous industries, or simply a small-scale version of your larger vision.

For more information on designing and testing proofs of concept, check out the section on Minimum Viable Products in The Lean Startup.


Cultivate a beginner’s mindset.

When you are just starting out, you will fail. A lot. And it sucks. But, as you begin to gain proficiency and inch your way towards mastery, it slowly starts to suck less. This happens with anything worth doing, and it never goes away. This prevents a lot of people from even trying.

You, however, can help to inoculate yourself from the fear of failure that tells you that if you try this, and it doesn’t go perfectly, you will lose your job and your friends and family will stop loving you and strangers will stop to laugh at you on the street so you might as well not even give it a shot.

One of the most effective ways that I’ve found to deal with this is to try to always be a beginner at something: a sport, skill, language, musical instrument, art form, whatever. Each time you expose yourself to that humbling stage of beginner’s ineptitude, and slowly make your way out of it, you reset your baseline of comfort and make failure a little bit less scary. Plus, you get to learn new stuff.

There are so many options available today to acquire new skills, often from world-class instructors, cheaply or for free. Here are just a few examples: Udacity, U of U Continuing Education, Codecademy, Skillshare, Khan Academy, Meetup, Coursera, MIT OCW, even Youtube.

Break it down.

When you’re starting a new project, it’s easy to just stare at its monolithic enormity and become completely overwhelmed before you’ve even begun. By breaking it down into discrete, manageable steps you give yourself a place to start, milestones for observable progress, and the confidence that it can be achieved.

Bird by Bird addresses this struggle in-depth through the lens of writing, but it is broadly applicable to just about anything in life where you have to do something that hasn’t been done before.

Photo from Flickr user: kaz k