By Barb Ward

When we think about innovation today, so much of our thoughts automatically think of technology. The rate of change and innovation in the technology industry is moving so rapidly, it is hard to keep up. However, transitions in our world through the pandemic have required increased collaboration, a different kind of connection, and warp-speed innovation to create and maintain cohesive teams even in a hybrid environment, and to ensure our leadership and organizational strategy still supports innovation to remain competitive. 

Sometimes, unless it is right in front of our faces, we fail to see innovation. It’s not uncommon, or even a bad thing, it is just truth. For instance, innovation in the medical field has resulted in staggering advancements in treatments available to patients. To be honest, medical advancements are only forefront on my mind because my son just had very serious hip surgery. A few years ago, the procedure he had would have required a long surgery time, a huge incision, and a 4–5-day hospital stay, among many other possible complications. Today, the surgery is done in approximately 90 minutes, is a less invasive procedure, and requires only a one-night hospital stay. Additionally, pain treatment utilizes a nerve sheath catheter that delivers pain therapy directly to the joint, reducing the need for pain medications and enabling patients to begin physical therapy soon after surgery, reducing recovery time.

Now, this may be an innovation that never makes a difference to you personally, but it is an illustration of our evolving world, and the difference that innovation can make. More specifically, it illustrates the difference innovative people and cohesive teams can make. Further, it has been shown that companies that have an innovative culture are able to recruit and retain high-performing employees more readily. If you are the leader of a team, this should give you pause. How can you, and your teams, innovate to make your industry better? There is room for improvement everywhere, you just have to inspire your team and create the right environment to identify the areas where you can make the most impact.

Think about a few of the innovations that affect your life every day. It’s likely that you don’t even give these things a second thought but imagine your world without them. For instance:

  • The wheel
  • Automobiles
  • Airplanes
  • Nails
  • Tools 
  • Light bulbs
  • Batteries
  • Antibiotics
  • X-rays
  • Television
  • Refrigerators
  • Cameras
  • Computers
  • The Worldwide Web
  • Credit Cards
  • ATM machines
  • Mobile phones
  • Laptop computers

These are only a few of the amazing innovations that make life better. It took thinking outside of the box, and many, many failures prior to success for all of these innovations. So, as leaders, it is our responsibility to create the right environment to encourage and facilitate innovation. Successfully creating a culture of innovation requires a few things:

1 – A transparent process. Acceptance and encouragement of both disruptive innovation and incremental innovation.

2 – An environment free of fear. A safe environment where people feel free to take risks and share ideas and challenges.

3 – Engagement. Make everyone accountable for innovation: teams, leaders, and decision-makers alike to harness collective and diverse wisdom.

4 – A process to reward creativity. When employees are given recognition for their contributions, it gives them a sense of purpose and motivates them to continue working hard. Others also see this and are more likely to want to work for that reward.

5 – Commitment to turning ideas into action. You must be “all in” and ready to act on ideas. Teams that see their ideas are being taken seriously work harder to innovate, both to generate and refine ideas. 

6 – Willingness to spy. It’s always smart to know what your competitors are doing. You’ll see what they are doing better, and what you are doing better. This process may spark ideas that help improve your company’s operations.

Now ask yourself these questions with regards to your team:

  • Are there areas that seem like they could especially benefit from innovation?
  • What could you be doing that would better support innovation in your organization? For your team?
  • What’s one concrete step you could take to innovate (e.g., our team, organization, etc.)?