How to be a creative, intentional innovator

Shannon Hennig

It seems that everyone wants to be innovative right now. It’s a buzzword that’s easily associated with cool tech start-ups in Silicon Valley, hipsters sipping lattes while playing on their iPad, and cutting edge ideas that disrupt the marketplace.

In reality, innovation is more than a little messy and in my experience often comes when you’re forced into a corner and there’s no easy way out. Innovate or die. But it doesn’t have to be that way; an innovative mindset is something I work hard to cultivate on a regular basis, not just in a crisis, and it looks something like this:

Just go and do it

It’s so easy to fall into a line of thinking where a new program, product or service has to be planned down to the very last detail with predictable outcomes, before we’re willing to try implementation. Stop it. Just go and do it. Have a great idea? Try creating a small prototype and begin to test it in a closed environment. Create a minimum viable product (MVP) – the bare bones of what you need to operate – and socialize it with your colleagues. This might feel risky and that’s good. That means you’re doing it right.

Prepare to fail

This is a tough one to wrap your head around in a world that’s scared of failure. If you’re testing your MVP and it blows up in your face, take what you’ve learned and create another iteration. The sooner and faster that you fail the greater the likelihood that your final product will accomplish your goals and meet the needs of your user group. Failure is an option – and a good one.

Get busy on social media

The best ideas I’ve discovered and funneled up to leadership have been based on things I’ve found on Twitter. Social media serves as a catalyst for ideation and rapid exchange of different perspectives. In healthcare we constantly look for published evidence to support our decision making, but the really novel, creative ideas are being circulated on social media long before peer review and traditional publishing processes can even blink and roll over. Get connected on Twitter, follow interesting people, companies, and brands on Facebook. Learn to Tweet. Seriously, you’ll thank me later.

Relationships are king

Innovative thinking is rarely the product of social isolation; instead, it relies on creative partnerships, collaborative problem solving and developing strong relationships with stakeholders. This might require you to hone your small talk skills, but isn’t just limited to those immediately in front of you. Take advantage of technology and get to know thought leaders and creative types in other industries and countries through social media and their online presence. Relationships will be what save you time and time again – and you and your work will flourish. Be honest, authentic and curious. Listen attentively and remember your exchange is reciprocal.

Over the last several years I’ve learned and accomplished more than I could have ever thought possible by gradually shifting my thinking to try and incorporate these four points as a regular part of how I operate. Am I innovative? Maybe. But I know I’m more engaged, excited and optimistic about the work I do and the impact I can make, and that can only fuel the innovative, creative thinking that can solve the increasingly complex challenges that come my way.


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