Stuck in a Rut?
by Sharon Flemings

If you are anything like me, you find it easy to get stuck in a rut when focused on a particular project. Yet, it is so important to us personally and professionally to pause periodically, “step out of out box”, and really reflect on what we are doing. Are we working in the most effective manner possible? Are we providing the value our organizations need to remain competitive? Most importantly, are we “pushing the envelope” to create new and interesting products or services, or better ways of doing business?

I just finished reading the results of a survey of technology companies in Asia. The top 2 challenges identified in sustaining their growth (44% of the responses) were: competitive products and developing and bringing new products to market. Can you say innovation? While this survey was conducted in 2004, the challenge in these two areas certainly isn’t diminishing. Further, I don’t believe this sentiment is limited to technology companies – those in every market segment are feeling the competitive pressure to innovate, as well as consumers’ demands for more unique and personalized products.

So, just how to we go about encouraging innovation in our organizations? Below are a couple of ideas you can use in your organization to stimulate ideas. Keep in mind, however, that innovation can no longer be treated as the “philosophy de jour” – it must be made an integral part of the organizational culture, and even the very business processes themselves.

Times 10
I recently read a suggestion that I found interesting in encouraging people to thing “big”. That is, think in terms of the desired result times a factor of ten. While the actual numbers derived as result may be unrealistic, the freedom to imagine how one would accomplish such a feat can often provide additional insights to solutions/products/innovation that would otherwise be missed. Don’t set your sights on the goal – look far past.

Try something new
My daughter brought home an interesting homework assignment near the end of the school year. Her teacher challenged her to stretch her horizons by doing something she has never done before. This challenge was also given a sense of urgency in that the assignment had to be completed within 3 days.

It was interesting how quickly we launched into a brainstorming session to generate ideas of what she could do – and do quickly. The only rule was that it had to be something unrelated to anything she had done before. We considered everything from a new cooking technique, to trying a new sport, to a new kind of book to read, to a new place to explore.

Companies often use brainstorming techniques to generate ideas and solutions to problems. I found that the challenge of this homework assignment not only required creative thinking regarding the selection of what new experience she wanted, but additionally, the experience of actually performing the selected task provided stimulus, as she was exposed to a new and different environment and new experiences.

Quickly - consider challenging yourself this summer to do something you’ve never done before. Pay attention to how this changes the way you look at life, and leverage the creativity from the experience to add new life to your work.

Challenge your assumptions
When wrestling with a problem, we are often told to “challenge your assumptions”. What does this mean? How do you go about this?

Consider putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – and really stretch yourself. If you’re dealing with a customer service problem, don’t just put yourself in the place of the customer. Pretend you are in an industry totally unrelated – perhaps an auto mechanic, a veterinarian, or a biomedical engineer. How would that person solve the same problem in the context of their world? Often, mentally placing ourselves in another place and environment can generate new ways of looking at a situation.

I would love to hear how you encourage innovation in your company – I’ll share the best ideas in a future article.

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