5 tips to instantly become more innovative

When you have a yen for new ideas or a creative solution to a challenge, using the same tired thinking will simply lead you to the same old ideas you’ve already had or tried before. Instead, do something that will stimulate your brain and shift your perspective. Here are some ways to ensure you (and your team) shake up your thinking to cultivate the fresh ideas you need.

  1. Change your environment. Get outside of your office. Debrief the latest research results or industry report in an art museum. Or take your team to the zoo or a local attraction with the objective of coming back with new ideas. If you can’t physically get out of the office, then find a way to get out metaphorically. Ask people to imagine how they would solve the problem at hand if they lived in another country or if viewed from the perspective of another profession.

  1. Bring outsiders in. Invite other perspectives into your discovery and idea generation processes. For example, when thinking about retirement planning for clients, bring in other people who work with active retirees, such as travel agents or a retirement community manager. Your team will be amazed at the range and diversity of new ideas that come when they are exposed to new perspectives on their challenge. They’ll think of ideas they never would have arrived at on their own— mostly due to their own embedded assumptions about the topic.


  1. Truly engage with your clients. Don’t rely solely on secondhand data to understand your clients’ needs. Talk with them about their lives. Go to their homes or offices to see the problems they need solutions for. All too often, teams looking at new ideas will say, “We already have ‘lots of data.’” This should always make you wary, because it usually means they have numerous reports with reams of statistics about clients. Unfortunately, it rarely means they have discovered any real new insight into clients’ needs. If you’re expecting your team to understand clients by watching a PowerPoint presentation, challenge yourself to find a more engaging and interactive process. It will be far more effective to immerse your team in real client understanding.


  1. Question everything. Do some specific exercises that force people to confront and challenge their subconscious assumptions about the topic. An easy way to do this is to first ask for ideas that the team thinks would solve the problem but they probably couldn’t implement for some reason. Then ask them to reframe each idea by saying, “We might be able to implement this idea if …” What comes behind the “ifs” will help surface a lot of assumptions people have that may or may not actually be barriers. Of course, some of the barriers will turn out to be real, so don’t spend more time on those ideas. But in every case that I’ve ever done this with client teams, they also discover many supposed barriers that they could solve.


  1. Let some crazy in the room. The academic definition of creative thinking is “the process of coming up with new and useful ideas.” The only way to get new ideas is to start with seemingly crazy ideas. Every truly innovative idea seems a little crazy at first. If you only start with ideas that are comfortable or clearly easy to implement, they’re probably not very new. So, encourage people to throw in extremely wild ideas. Then, play “If we could.” Instruct the team to temporarily let go of the problems in the idea and ask, “If we could implement this idea, what would be the benefit(s)?” Once you have identified the benefits of each crazy idea, narrow it down to the most promising few and ask the team to look for viable solutions to the barriers.

A team I worked with was on the verge of killing a truly original idea for a new kids’ cereal because they didn’t know how to create the critical component. However, after “If we could,” they agreed the idea was so interesting and unique that they needed to explore it. The research and development team made a few calls to other experts, and within a few weeks they solved it. This idea resulted in the most successful new product launch in the brand’s history!

It is unfortunately all too easy to simply approach every new challenge using our typical day-to-day thinking. It feels familiar. It’s easy to access that type of thinking, and it works on most daily challenges. So, you subconsciously assume it will work on any challenge. It’s incredibly helpful to do some meta-analysis on your thinking. In other words, think about how you’re thinking. Not every problem will benefit from the same type of thinking. Once you recognize that this new situation needs new thinking, it’s easy to shift to a more productive mode for this particular challenge. Then shift back to the more familiar day-to-day thinking for your daily tasks.

Susan Robertson, a creative thinking expert and instructor on applied creativity at Harvard University, empowers individuals, teams and organizations to adapt more nimbly to change by transforming thinking from “why we can’t” to “how might we?” To learn more, visit susanrobertson.co.

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