"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." Steve Jobs
Dr. Silver Spencer, a scientist at 3M, was singing in his church choir. He noticed that his bookmark would often fall out, causing him to lose his place. Ever attentive to new ideas, he went to work on this problem, and came up with a concept called Sticky Notes. The rest is history!
How much do you think that idea was worth? How much do you think 3M has been reimbursed for that idea? How much success do you think it brought to Dr. Spencer and to his career?
Seth Godin, in his prolific writings, challenges all of us to become thought leaders. It's not enough to mass market yourself; it's not enough to parrot what everyone else is doing. People around us, employers around us, and customers around us are all hungry for people who will stand up and generate new and fresh content.
"Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity." Michael Porter
Would you like to achieve career prosperity and security? Develop your skill of being an innovative thinker, and you will be well on your way to achieving your goal.
Here are some key success factors to becoming an innovative thinker, employee, and/or business owner:
Change Your Mind!
This has been my number one stumbling block. "I'm not creative. I'm not original. I can't think of anything fresh. There's nothing new under the sun." These are the automatic thoughts that come to mind when I see the terms "thought leader" and "innovator." It's ok to have those thoughts, but then ask yourself, "Are these thoughts taking me to where I want to be? Are they producing the results I want in my life?" I don't think so!
Get used to gently or forcefully challenging those negative thoughts and beliefs with new ones: "I'm creative! I have a beginner's mind! I am open to new ideas, and they come easily to me."
As Henry Ford, inventor of the automobile, stated, "Believe you can. Believe you can't. Either way you're right." In other words, are you going to choose to listen to your automatic thoughts, or are you going to cultivate new ones?
Here are some practical ideas for becoming curious in your business or industry:
Listen to your customers!
Listen to the happy ones, who are telling you what you are doing right! Listen to the unhappy ones, who are telling you what you are doing wrong! Listen to the creative ones, who are telling you what you should be doing! You can do this by using polls (SurveyMonkey is a great resource for generating surveys you can send to your customers: there is a free/basic option, and a low cost option) on your blog, or on your main website.
Expose yourself to different industries, books, opportunities. How often do you attend conventions within your industry, so that you can "˜rub shoulders' with your competitors. How often do you read books that are totally outside the sphere of your normal industry/niche? Do you read fiction sometimes, if your preference is non-fiction, and vice-versa? The idea here is to mix it up: see if there are patterns from these different sources that you can incorporate into your own business or niche.
Keep a Journal
A great resource I would recommend is called the Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. Ms. Cameron is an award-winning poet, playwright, and filmmaker, and was a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, for a number of years. She believes that writing your thoughts out by hand have a way of building creativity.
If you prefer typing, I enjoy utilizing Evernote to store all kinds of information.
Keep a creativity box in which you can put an assortment of objects, article clippings, etc. that will help you develop your innovative side.
When was the last time you took a day off from your normal routine? Get relaxed, go on a walk, sit alone in a room, play with your dog (or cat). Create some rituals to get into a "˜creative zone', whether that is sipping a cup of warm tea, taking a relaxing bath, or practicing yoga. Some of my best creative energy comes when I am going on a long run.
Learn from Benjamin Franklin!
This founding father of the United States of America did two things that largely contributed to his creative state of mind. Mr. Franklin started the public library system and the postal system in the United States. He read books, he read books, and he read more books! For a period in his life, he did not participate in any "˜fun' activities other than studying his books for at least one hour per day. In time, he felt a need to get together with other businessmen to discuss ideas, and out of this came many business ideas, public service activities, and other discoveries. In essence, he formed a mastermind group of creative and studious types who, together, were much more creative than any one person alone.
This patchwork of ideas is just a beginning. I hope that you will put on your creative thinking cap and start developing your innovation muscles. Because when you do, the world will benefit from your thinking!