I was asked to write an article on innovation sometime ago to be included in our team’s newsletter. It’s finally out so I can finally post it here. I guess my basic thinking about the whole innovation thing is to get over the hurdle that it’s this major monster of a buzzword that only special geniuses can overcome. As Seneca puts it, “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” So really, just try and start doing.
Have you ever had a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s? I’d typically have a Cinnamon & Sugar pretzel, request for that to be cut into pieces, and order their cream cheese dip. Then one day, I was about to order my usual when I noticed something posted on the side. “Cinnamon Stix,” it read. The pretzel dough was shaped into short sticks coated with the Cinnamon & Sugar flavor, and each stick had a cream cheese filling. That “new” item was pretty much my usual order — rolled into a different package. “Ooh, innovation!”, I thought as I took my first bite.
It’s probably not what folks would even consider as an innovation. “Innovation” is such a buzzword nowadays. When you say “innovation”, people think of something mind-blowingly drastic with tremendously huge impact. The type that if you give a keynote speech about it you’ll get at least 5 minutes of standing ovation.
One other common notion is that you have to automate in order to innovate. Or that you need to produce a new tool that will save a measurable number of hours.
Or that you produce an even newer (hopefully, better) tool than the one just recently deployed. That happens. There was one time I attended a tools demo, and there were several tools that were shared but they were pretty much just different implementations of the same thing.
Discard those notions. Putting those limits in your head counters the chances of you coming up with one. So for starters, open up your mind to the possibility that you can come up with something that will make things easier for yourself and others. Take a look at how things are currently being done, and question whether they can be done better. It can be something as simple as introducing a minor change in one step of the process, or finding a useful shortcut key combination.
Your innovation doesn’t have to be big. You can start with the little things and it could be just as valuable because little things can add up to something bigger.
It doesn’t have to make a universal impact. Start with something that helps yourself, and then maybe work your way to helping a bigger audience.
You don’t need to automate. Automation is a tool that can be used to innovate; it is not innovation itself. If coding is not your thing, you can do research. For all you know there could be an existing solution to what you’re trying to address that is already out there.
It doesn’t have to be something totally new altogether. Just take my cinnamon stix example. Also, you don’t need to come up with a new tool every time. Sometimes it could just be a matter of tapping some unused feature of the existing tool, or looking into the current process rather than the tool.