How do you discover your license to innovate?

Once upon a time, if you’d asked if I was innovative, I would have said “no”, which might sound strange since I work in innovation. My boss is innovative – ideas just flow – but that’s not me. I’m too busy. It’s not my role. I’m back office, membership, admin.

But then two things happened.

The first was an Innovation Mindset workshop. I didn’t plan to be there. I was packing up after the conference when Allan said: “hey if everything’s done, why don’t you sit in on this workshop. You can give us feedback.”

Simple, easy, not a problem. I found myself sitting at a table of six (a nice even number) next to someone I’d emailed many times but never really met. Upon opening the workshop, Allan said, “think of a time when you did something that was innovative. Product, culture, process, anything at all” adding, “and share that story with the person sitting next to you.”

Obviously my reaction was panic.

I’m not innovative. How could I have an innovation story? But I couldn’t leave the room either. (Allan was possibly not my favourite boss at that point.)

I had five minutes to think. I had to find something both innovative and that I felt comfortable sharing.

And then I remembered our Participation Report, something I’d set up years ago but had recently found a way to improve to highlight the value of collaboration and community. It had been a huge job but well worth the effort.

That was my story – a process innovation. It covered all the bases and got me off the hook.

And so, we kept working through the mindset process. I started to analyse my story in a way I had never before considered – looking at my strengths, behaviour and actions.

I started to realise that not only was my story innovative but that I had innovation strengths I could name. I was a creator, a doer.

I had contributed as an innovation team member, catalyst, employee delivering a positive impact.

I reflected on my behaviours, creativity, proactivity, perseverance.

I had used innovation tools without even knowing.

Wow!

I could pinpoint my level of innovation maturity. My official ‘Innovation Recognition’ level was ‘Supporter or Team Member’, an entry-level innovator. I could even identify my next goal and the strengths, skills and new tools which would help me reach that level. Through my newfound confidence, I could set my innovation goals, objectives and identify new areas.

Conference over, I went home and raved about my epiphany. The next day, I returned to the office, and work/life went on crazy busy as usual—end of the story.

Or not quite. I did say two things happened.

The second was a few weeks later at my 6-monthly performance review. These are never entirely predictable with Allan, so I did some pre-review thinking that evolved into three new ideas.  And that’s what I went in with. Three ideas to make positive change in the workplace and my role – piloting a significant change in process; a minor change of process; and another small change that impacted peers. Things that I could have suggested at any time if I’d thought about them or understood that it was ok to think about them.

All three were approved, then Allan threw the mindset question at me again. “Think of a time when you did something innovative….”. Except this time, I could stop him there. I had just given him three new ideas – and surely that was enough!

And that’s when it really hit me. I am innovative. I always have been innovative. I’ve done heaps of innovative things, especially around process.

Quite simply, understanding Innovation Mindset gave me license to innovate.

It helped me realise that I am innovative and gave me the confidence to consider what I do and how I do it. Thinking differently is good – from a better process to challenging conventional thinking.

They’re all ideas stemming from my innovation mindset and the strengths, actions and behaviours that I’ve learnt to identify and now confidently use.

So next time someone asks me if I’m innovative, you know what my answer will be, don’t you?

In a world where change is a given, being flexible, adaptable and innovative are highly sought after skills for everyone – from entry-level innovators to leaders and teams. The key is to discover your Innovation Mindset.

Written by Leisl Kimber, Hargraves Member Services.

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