Innovation is a weird beast. At one end it arouses vivid and rapturous enthusiasm about the future and the promises it holds. On the other, it is constrained by real-life constraints and mindsets. Perhaps the greatest challenge is focus and that is what this post is about. How to resolve the apparent conflict of being radically innovative while at work. Here are some things I have found extremely useful.
Keep the passion alive
If you can keep yourself passionately excited about your field in demonstrable ways that reflect in your work life, interactions with friends, colleagues and family and your reflections, you have it in you to be able to innovate. It should bother you if you did not learn something new every few days or hours.
Ask the deep questions
If you want to innovate, you have to ask deeper and deeper questions both of yourself and the communities you interact with on your areas of interest. If you can do that consistently, you will find yourself becoming more of an expert in the area and more interested than ever.
Answer the deep questions, too!
You can only learn so much alone. Participate in communities so that you hear what other viewpoints are. Answer questions from the community or contribute your interpretation to ongoing discussions so that you can not only engage with others but also clarify your own understanding of issues.
Talk with your customers and stakeholders
There is no one who can tell you what they need better than your customers. Build a relationship with them so that you listen when they talk. Every once in a while, you will be able to piece together multiple voices and create something that is truly applicable widely.
Do it in chunks
Perhaps the hardest thing is to think big and then patiently break it into smaller chunks. An innovation that makes a big impact would most likely have started with a limited set of features. The challenge is to be able to take those smaller steps and not want to create the big one from the word go.
Fail a lot for the right reasons
Be prepared to redesign and throw past work out. Failures are good, especialy if customers tell you that they are failures. Use them as a starting point to question your own beliefs and understanding. Perhaps the biggest thing is to be able to understand where you need to stop – to be able to admit that you, the expert, were wrong!
See patterns effectively
The most important contribution of being an expert is to be able to see commonality in different settings – patterns. These patterns would not necessarily belong entirely to the domain you are an expert in, but could also factor in “disturbances” from the outside world.
Hope these help you perform your “job” as an innovator effectively!