What it takes to be an innovator (part 5 – final)

From re-active to pro-active

(Dare to) decide!

Deciding involves rational thinking and emotional feeling. If you try to decide based on rationale only, you may risk getting lost in endless considerations. Conversely, using emotion only as your yardstick towards deciding makes you vulnerable to mixed feelings, losing sight of the long run. At the end of the day, deciding is a matter of choice as well as courage. Carefully consider what is important in the decision and avoid getting trapped in a spiral of doubt and hesitation. Provocative coaching as a method (“what’s the problem with that?”) may help to overcome your initial reservations. Once you’ve decided, you can focus your energy on what is to come.

Deal with uncertainty and fear

Path breakers face a lot of uncertainty because the impact of their actions and their behavior is not always predictable, even though -in essence- it determines the success of the innovation process. Even though they are driven by passion, fear can be overwhelming at times. You cannot choose to ignore fear, but you can decide how to deal with it, so here’s a few tips:

  • start by admitting that you’re scared – you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge
  • analyze it in depth: find out if it’s real and what triggers it
  • talk about your fear with others you trust, because keeping it to yourself won’t get you anywhere
  • learn to accept it, then redirect your focus on the tasks at hand and move on!

Use the physical surroundings to your advantage

Try to find those elements in your immediate surroundings that support you at every stage of the innovation process. A stimulating workspace helps to keep up the momentum and goes beyond the “fanciness” to be found in the offices of some of the world’s best known brands (…) – here’s a few ground rules:

  • give participants the ownership to create their own space
  • the space should be large enough to accommodate different contexts
  • the space should foster a dialogue across multiple disciplines and points of view
  • the space should allow different actors to lead the process along its way

Stress – your ally or your enemy?

Optimists are better equipped than pessimists to handle stress. Therefore, it pays off to draw away your attention from any (recurring) negative thoughts and/or people that drain the energy out of you. Instead, consciously try to figure out positive scripts and seek for those people that can support you. In case you worry about what remains undone, take a deep breath, prioritize and ask yourself what you can do about it here and now – even the smallest of steps helps. It also helps to be mindful about what lies in your comfort zone vs. your stretch zone (positive stress) vs. your panic zone (negative stress). Finally, it’s good to “work hard, play hard”, but keep in mind that your body and mind need to rest as well!

How to keep up the motivation alive

Sometimes your innovation process gets stuck for one reason or another. For example:

  • The change implementation you had in mind has become redundant (e.g. because of recent technological developments). In this case, nothing but your own ego prevents you from joining or from looking for the next opportunity
  • Or the momentum isn’t simply there and other priorities take precedence on the agenda. In this case it’s wise to pick your fight, rather than spending lots of energy trying to complete both projects at the same time
  • Or you are paralyzed by the prospect of an un-surmountable obstacle you cannot avoid; you don’t know where to start: in both cases, you have the power to break these barriers, for example (1) by breaking up the challenge in smaller chunks which can be solved separately (2) by connecting with peers and finding “partners in crime” (3) through aligning your aspirations and adding perspective to the context (4) by picking your fight and confront rather than worry about the consequences

Do I need to be gifted to be a path breaker?

Let’s face it, western civilization is obsessed with the individual – but are individuals nowadays the only source to innovation? Many of today’s breakthrough innovations in the global economy come from a collective initiative where it’s difficult to pinpoint the one individual that came up with the idea in the first place. In other words: for an innovation to be successful, it is no longer dependent on the talents or skills of a sole “ego” innovator. Rather, it relies on an “eco” initiative, a group of passionate individuals that share the same idea at the same time and are motivated to bring it to the next level. The key is to know what makes you tick, much more than to know whether you’re a talent by nature.