Tap in to Innovation Before It’s Too Late

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Spark Change Using Tools You Already Have

InnovationIn today's workplace, there's much to be said for doing something well and sticking with it. But, we hear increasingly about companies losing momentum because they failed to change. Take a company like Ford Motors. In 1985, they were a leader in innovation, rolling out the most revolutionary automobile since the Model T. The Taurus changed auto industry trends forever and became the best-selling car in the U.S. But its status didn't last for long. In the late 1990s, sales dropped as the car failed to keep up with the competition. Twenty-one years after debuting it, Ford pulled the Taurus from production. Experts say the company could drop to third in U.S. sales because of the loss.

So what went wrong? Analysts and former Ford executives seem to agree: Failure to continually improve. Being innovative once simply didn't cut it. The fact is, for companies small to large, innovation is important now, not once the competition gets the upper hand. How can your business use innovative thinking to improve products, processes, ideas and goals? Tapping in to the resources you already have is a great place to start.

  • Question everything. As easy as it sounds, the strategy of questioning is rarely used in the workplace. Why? Rocking the boat can be uncomfortable, and the status quo is easy to maintain. Also, people are often afraid that asking questions will make them seem unknowledgeable. Many fear that questioning may be seen as attacking a manager or leader. That's why it is important for leaders to encourage questioning by starting the process. If you want to be innovative, ask and seek out questions. You'll find that in the pursuit of answers innovative solutions are rarely far behind.
  • Mix it up. Instead of hiring an outside consulting team, look within to your own experts. Creating task forces with team members across departments or work groups can help offer fresh insight and new ideas. Try having team members switch roles, and see what happens. A software engineer may have great ideas about a marketing concept. A salesperson could help revise an accounting process. When you tap in to the strengths of all your workers, you'll spread innovative thinking and build each part of your business.
  • Turn it upside down. Look at the issue from a different angle or through a new lens. Try role playing exercises to see how different groups may view your product or respond to a message. Brainstorm outside of the office, and think about the product, process or idea in a new context to spark ideas. Don't be afraid to let your imagination run free. Often, the best ideas happen when people let go of their inhibitions.
  • See what people think. Ask friends and mentors, sales associates, your fourth-grader or strangers on the street what they think. You don't have to conduct a costly focus group to get interesting ideas or feedback. Keep in mind that you're not looking for empirical evidence through these informal conversations. But, this technique can spark ideas that will reinvigorate your team and generate the next innovative move.
  • Step up to change. In the end, an innovative thought or concept won't do your business any good if it isn't used. Take a chance, and change something. Implement an idea, or revise a process. Putting your ideas into use will help you move your business into new realms of possibility.

Remember, curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can build business if it's used to innovate not just what you do, but also how, why, when and where you do it. Start by using these tips, and you may be surprised to see how your business grows.

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