“Almost everything is imitation. The most original minds borrow from one another.” – Voltaire
We’ve entered a new era.
Whether you call it the age of imagination, ideation, conceptualization, creativity, or innovation – creativity, mental flexibility, and collaboration are the new core ingredients of competitive advantage.
In the book, Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes, G. Shawn Hunter shares how individuals, teams, and leaders can innovate by going above and beyond routine tasks and operations to make work more meaningful, collaborate in comprehensive ways, and create a learning environment of opportunity, growth, and greatness.
Here are 10 ideas from the book that I think will help you compete more effectively in today’s world by creating a culture of innovation and collaboration.
1. We’re in the Creative Age
Innovation is the new excellence. To stay relevant, you need to keep innovating.
“The global economy has moved on, from the Information Age to what some have dubbed the ‘Creative Age.’ … I believe ‘innovation’ is now what ‘entrepreneurial’ was to the 1990’s and what ‘excellence’ was to the 1980’s. The pursuit of ‘innovation’ has been urgently added to the business buzz vernacular because the velocity of change demands that companies constantly innovate to remain relevant.”
2. Connect People with a Greater Sense of Purpose
Purpose is our fuel for creativity and passion.
“Business models, manufacturing and distribution processes, brand loyalties, pricing strategies, and even profits are not why companies exist. Companies have these operational mechanisms, and other trappings as a function of existing, but to survive, companies must provide products and services that the market recognizes as valuable, and do so on a sustainable basis.
To do this, companies need the committed creativity and involved passion and initiative of human beings. The surest way of gaining this is to connect people with a greater sense of purpose. No matter how mundane or utilitarian an employee’s task may seem, the greatest leaders can help connect that task, an that person, to a grater sense of meaning.”
3. Develop a Culture of Shared Values
How can a globally dispersed workforce, with no clear head quarters, and a CEO with no nationalistic identity, have a strongly held shared vision? According to Don Vanthournout, Accenture’s CEO, it’s by instilling a sense of shared values.
“We build core skills into our people on how we want them to collaborate and communicate with each other, how we want them to manage projects, but we’re never going to be able to guess every situation that might confront them. And so the why of why you spend so much time focusing on the value side of things is so that we can develop people, who, when they’re thrown in that situation that they might not have been prepared explicitly from a content standpoint, will from a contextual standpoint know how to operate in alignment with what Accenture values.”
4. Collaboration is a Contact Sport
You need to collaborate to innovate, and collaboration means involving and engaging people in all aspects of the work.
“To create a culture of innovation, leaders must first create a culture of collaboration. This means engaging and inspiring the creative talents of others, respecting employees’ ideas, and bringing new insights into group decisions. Engaging employees requires knowing them, developing them, inspiring them, rewarding them, and involving them. In a collaborative workplace, differences add up to something more than the sum of the parts and result in novel solutions.”
5. The Leader of the Future Stitches Together Solutions for the Market
Leaders of the future are masterful maestros and orchestrators of innovation and assembly. They connect with customers and enable comprehensive collaboration to bring ideas to life.
“According to Valluri, the leader of the future is going to be an expert on figuring out how to stitch a number of possible solutions or possible technologies together to create a solution for the market. The next issue is how quickly that person can execute on that vision, collaborate internally and externally, and construct a new model that has recognized value in the market.”
6. Borrow Brilliance
Borrow brilliance. It’s all around you.
“Great ideas are built on the shoulders of giants — that is, most of what seems to be original thought is in fact built on the strength of the thoughts of those who came before us, who in turn based their thoughts on those before them.
Once we accept the fact that build on the creativity of others, our creative process becomes deliberate and intentional. Because we never know where a good idea may be lurking, we need to look everywhere — other industries, science, art, music, society … everywhere.”
7. Speak with Action — Not Words
Failure to act is how innovation dies.
Action creates momentum, and it’s far more inspiring to talk about results versus intentions.
“Instead of telling someone what we are considering, or committing to, we need to show them what we’ve already started, the work in progress. We need to give them something to anchor to for two reasons: what we say we will do will likely change once we start doing it — for market, design, budget, or other reasons; and people tend to understand and respond better to hard evidence than to words.
In other words, speak with action, not words. Our action, prototype, or first cut makes for a much more vivid and interesting discussion and collaboration because it provides a conceptual anchor.
The other powerful and compelling reason to start with action instead of talk is that once we get in motion and actually produce something of value, other people will recognize and respond to that creation. in the best circumstances, those people we show our work to will contribute, collaborate, and spread the word about what we or our teams are working on, which will drive energy and awareness to our project. It’s much more difficult and less inspiring to spread the word about what someone intends to do.”
8. Allow Audacious Ideas to Thrive (Avoid “Ideacide”)
Watch out for “ideacide.” It’s a creativity killer.
As a leader, use your optimism to keep creativity front and center, and help propel people and their ideas forward.
Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:
“Ideacide” is killing creativity. We need the thrill of seeing where bold ideas might take us. Dynamic leaders play a key role through their optimism. They keep creativity at the forefront and move the organization forward.
“To borrow from Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon’s video My Anti-Creativity Checklist, ideacide can happen for many reasons: playing it safe and not taking risks; limiting or pigeonholing ourselves; thinking our job is not about being creative; being skeptical, thinking that past results dictate the future; crushing ideas that crop up naturally, thinking everything is old hat; closing our eyes and minds; blaming failure on external forces; underestimating and undervaluing our customers; being suspicious of those who are creative and don’t fit into the box in our minds; and stifling the imaginative child within, thinking ‘playing is for children.'”
9. Redesign the Workplace for Continual Innovation
How did GE reduce material costs and labor while improving the quality and energy efficiency?
They moved their “cheap” Chinese factory to the “expensive” Kentucky factory.
“While these factors, on their own merit, make for a compelling spread-sheet argument to bring appliance manufacturing back to the United States, there are other unexpected benefits. With manufacturing basically walled off in China, GE discovered that engineers had lost touch with the actual process of manufacturing, and therefore had lost touch with opportunities to continually innovate in this critical function. Once GE engineers examined the water heater, in the process of bringing the company’s manufacturing back home, they decided to completely overhaul the design. This in turn led to even higher increases in its efficiency and performance, and to the speed of the company’s producing it and getting it to market.”
10. Proactively Find the Best Expression of Yourself
Don’t wait to be asked. Find the best expression of yourself.
“Finally, we find the best expression of ourselves when we don’t wait to be picked by our leadership or our company. In our work, we all see opportunities to be filled, dilemmas to be solved, and possibilities for action — and yet we often hesitate. We’re waiting to be asked, ignoring the difficult, or pausing out of fear. That fear is often born out of trying to anticipate what we think the company wants and expects of us and trying to intuit how the company or leadership thinks we should act.
The truth is that we will bring much greater energy and creativity to our work when we take the lead, when we take the first step. Step boldly.”
The world changes fast.
So can you.
Nature favors the flexible, and the market favors the innovative and collaborative.
Create your way forward through bold action and borrowed brilliance.