The former chairman of telecom giant, AT&T, Ralph De La Vega published a post that I’m going to take some inspiration from, and break down a few of his key points in relation to empowering yourself to become more innovative and creative. While his point, as a former chairman of AT&T, is more directed at those in a leadership position, I think it’s worthwhile having a look and recontextualizing it to any position in an organisation- even your personal life.
First and foremost, De La Vega points out that while there is an increased emphasis – perhaps more than ever before – on innovation within organisations, in a bid to fight the war against disruption and the fast pace of doing business. The difference for the author, as he explains, is that “the two go hand in hand.”
“Creativity in a business environment stands for the ability to develop new ideas and to discover new ways of looking at problems,” he says, while on the other hand, “innovation is the ability to use creative ideas in the development of products, services, or solutions that result in competitive advantage.” Next up, De La Vega ponders exactly whose job it is to be the creative-type in an organisation, where he argues should be a top-down approach. He cites a list of BCG’s Most Innovative Companies of 2019, stating that “many of them are led by a CEO who is involved hands-on in innovation. Think of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and of the late Steve Jobs, to name a few.”
“In fact, the authors of the book ‘The Innovator’s DNA” found that the CEOs of the most innovative companies spend 50% more time on innovation than the rest of their peers,” he says.
So, then, how does one bring about a sudden spark in creativity and innovation levels? It’s all down to the refining of what are known as ‘discovery skills’, which are made up of associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and networking. “Based on my personal experience working with a lot of startups recently, I agree with the promise of the five discovery skills,” he says.
Associating boils down to the someone’s ability to connect the dots on two – or more – seemingly unrelated phenomena or observations. Steve Jobs is a great example of this put into practice, combining – or associating – two very disciplines like computer design and calligraphy to create a more engaging user experience for the customer. “This is a perfect example of association skill,” De La Vega writes, “had he not had a love for calligraphy, he might have launched Macintosh with a single typeface offering, just like everyone else.”
The author then moves to experimenting, deeming it “the most admirable of the discovery skills. It takes a lot of determination to try and try again as many times as it takes,” he says.
He moves to the example of Thomas Edison, “who famously said he had not failed 10,000 times but that, rather, had found 10,000 ways his idea would not work.” Edison once said that “our greatest weakness lies in giving up… the most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. While the words of a 19th century inventor might not seem initially applicable for relevant, effective business advice in the 21st century, Edison was actually referring to one of the most important distinguishing facts separating organisations today: those that are willing to experiment, fail and try again- and those that are too afraid to try it in the first place.
I’ve written before on the importance of experimenting in your organisation, and there’s a number of reasons why you need to be paying more attention to this than you might like to hear. First and foremost, there’s more competitors out there than ever before, and they’re always looking for an opportunity to usurp your organisation and steal the top position. Likewise, in terms of customer expectations, with that rise in competition, so too has the expectations of your consumers; if you’re not coming to market with an exceptional product or service, matched by a high-level in customer service, you won’t remain competitive for too long.
One key consideration in this space is to make sure that your organisation is willing to pay the price if this process of experimenting doesn’t end up exactly how you’d like it to. You need to first set up a system that ensures the customer doesn’t pay for your mistakes; the organisation needs to take the damage. Also, by this, I don’t mean that your staff should be reprimanded for suggesting something that doesn’t work out. Your staff should be encouraged to put their hand up and offer up a possible solution that needs to be tested, and if you create a culture in which your staff are empowered to come up with more ideas in the future, you’ve sparked a cycle of sustained innovation without even trying!
For now, though, I’ll wrap it up, and I’ll see you in the next article.