Innovate, innovate, innovate.

Some organizations believe if they say it enough, they’ll do it.

An innovation mindset is essential for survival in today’s fast-moving world. We’ve all seen organizations caught off-guard by societal changes. A startup introduces a product or service that outshines others. A new technology appears. Younger generations shun their “parents’ brands.” Values change.

When people think innovation, they often think of the cost. But what’s costlier? Being open to the possibility of change? Or scrambling to catch up when customers abandon ship?

This is why it’s important to develop an innovation mindset. Here’s how:

1. Conquer Fear by Getting Curious

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Fear is the great destroyer. It stifles ideas and keeps us safe.

Innovation can be intimidating. Depending on the source you reference, the failure rate for new products is about 80%. And some are spectacular flops. Think: New Coke.

One reason they fail is because there isn’t a need in the marketplace. Coca-Cola had been around forever. It was a daily part of peoples’ lives. Reliable. Altering the taste changed the essence of the product. People were given something they didn’t want.

In the face of such a high failure rate, we can curtail fear by looking to the past and understanding our customers.

2. Look Back to Envision the Future

“Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought.” –Albert Szent-Gyorgi

Hasn’t everything already been invented?

No, it hasn’t.

Innovation is often a combination of two or more “old” things that become a “new” thing.

Look at the smartphone. It’s a combination of computer, phone, and camera—all products that have existed several decades. An innovative idea in conjunction with technological advances allowed those items to merge and become a “new thing” and now our laptops and cameras gather dust.

Taking pressure off yourself to come up with something completely new can spur creativity.

3. Understand, Don’t Presume

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.” –Daniel J. Boorstin

You and your customers may go way back, but they change just like you. Think about all that’s happened in the past five years. Life changes abound. You may have gotten a promotion at work, became a new parent or an empty nester. The same thing happens to your customers, so you better keep up. Read about how to keep your brand in step with social change here.

Picture your customers and ask yourself: Where did my image of them come from? Sometimes our view of people gets stale—a static image that goes years without updating. If we’re honest, sometimes we even think of our customers as numbers instead of humans.

To innovate successfully, a dynamic understanding of your customers’ needs is the starting point.

Burst Your Bubble. Like it or not, we live in our bubbles. From our unique perches, it’s often difficult to get into the minds of others. What’s the remedy? Go out of your way to live your customers’ lives. Shop where they shop. Experience what they experience. Observe them at shelf—even ask questions, if you’re brave enough. Step out of your world and into theirs.

Identify Pain Points. We all work to make people’s lives better, right? Recognize your customers’ pain points and use them as the foundation for innovation. Look deeply at what they struggle with and use their challenges as a potential design principle.

 4. Prepare to Get Messy

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” –James Joyce

We pride ourselves on organization and efficiency. But creativity and innovation don’t always thrive in a structured world; they are often born of chaos. If there was a simple path to innovation, everyone would take it. Get comfortable with not having all the answers.

Don’t Limit Yourself. Drop preconceptions of what’s possible. Your presumptions can kill innovation. But we can’t do that, it’s too expensive! So-and-so already does that! We don’t want to be a copycat! All reasonable concerns, but also roadblocks. Good ideas spark more good ideas. Don’t douse any of them too early.

Capture New Ideas. So many ideas—good and bad—skitter across our minds every day. And yet, how often do we write them down? Be open and gather them before they disappear.

Look Over the Fence. Educate yourself on industry trends and what competitors (new and old) are doing. If you think a new product or service out there isn’t relevant to you, think again. Look closer—there may be something there that you can use as a catalyst for innovation.

 5. Foster an Open Work Environment

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” –John Steinbeck

What does it look like to make innovation a team effort? It can be as simple as setting aside time to discuss new products, trends, or a product or service completely unrelated to your industry that people love. And then look deeper to understand why they generate interest.

Innovate Individually & As a Team. Research shows that fewer ideas are generated in group brainstorming sessions than by individuals on their own. Create an environment that allows for solitary contemplation. Then bring your group together to examine those ideas and build on them.

Forge Relationships Across Teams. Develop relationships with people in other areas of your company. For example, if you work in marketing, someone who works in logistics may trigger an idea when it comes to distribution. Hearing other perspectives helps build a more complete vision and creates fertile ground for innovation.

To Sum It Up…

Developing an innovation mindset is essential to remaining in peak form.

Set aside time within your team (or across your organization) to discuss innovation. Doing so will spark new ideas and help you create, rather than react to, changes in your industry.

Listen to your customers. Embrace an innovation mindset.

Your customers will thank you for it.

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