Do you consider yourself to be an innovator at work? If not, you may be surprised at how much innovation is within your capability, let alone what you might have already achieved.
Putting aside those grand, Nobel prize-winning visions about what innovation typically entails, in the workplace, innovation can simply be about observing the way our fellow team members work day-to-day and finding those little solutions that can help enhance and improve the efficiency and quality of the work that they do.
While creativity involves the birth of ideas that are new and productive, organisational innovation is essentially the process through which these ideas are successfully applied at work as new products, activities or processes.¹, ⁴
Many teams and organisations value creativity, forward-thinking and innovation, and these are definitely attributes at the foundation of a healthy, profitable workplace.
But in our roles at work we may find ourselves stuck in a routine where we see innovation as something that trickles down from above; other people’s ideas that we adopt, forgetting that we too are capable of contributing some innovation of our own. When we do have an innovative concept in mind, we may feel discouraged from putting it forward for fear of rejection or struggle due to processes, politics or resource issues.
To help overcome these blockages, it’s helpful to understand what it is that makes innovative ideas successful at work. Here are four research-supported ideas drawn from the science of positive psychology.
1. Tap in on your character strengths
When we identify and use four or more of our natural character strengths as part of our job, our levels of engagement, intrinsic motivation, and positive work experiences increase significantly.7 According to a considerable body of research, an employee’s level of engagement, intrinsic motivation, and positive work experiences are key precursors and drivers of innovative work behaviour.¹, ⁴, ¹⁰
In fact, leading organisations such as IBM have embraced the identification and application of employee character strengths in the workplace, using the VIA Institute’s list of character strengths as a springboard⁸ – these strengths include wisdom, courage, humanity, and so on – all found to be universal and applicable across global populations.⁹ Thus, to sustain innovation in the workplace, it is critical to identify your character strengths, and then explore ways to align your signature strengths with current tasks and projects.¹
2. Accept failure as part of the innovation process
According to Professor of Business Administration, Edward Hess from the University of Virginia, “almost all innovations are the outcome of prior learning from failures.”5 Innovation requires a mindset that embraces the joy of learning and exploration over a fear of failure.⁵
Carol Dweck, renowned psychology researcher from Stanford University has shown how individuals with a growth mindset (those that believe that their talents can be developed through effort) are far more likely to be innovative than those with a fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).⁶ This is because people with growth mindsets worry less about looking smart and put more energy into learning.⁵⁶ Thus, one crucial way to foster healthy innovation is to think growth and continually try out small risk experiments, using failure as a platform for learning rather than punishment.⁵,⁶
3. Give yourself some solitude to dream
Allowing yourself some alone-time at work can be key to innovation. When people have structured time to be alone without distractions, they are able to let their mind wander and engage in creative thinking.² While daydreaming at work might be seen to be a bad thing, neuroscientists have found that it in fact stimulates the same brain processes involved with imagination and creativity.²
Those sudden connections and insights that are part of creative thinking emerge when people daydream.² Perhaps it’s for this reason that leading organisation, Intel permitted its employees four hours of uninterrupted hours quiet time every Tuesday morning in 2007 to just think – not to send emails or use their phone. ³ As Gandhi once so aptly quoted, “solitude is a catalyst for innovation.”
4. Collaborate and share ideas
Having said that, you can’t go it alone through the whole process of innovation. To successfully build on and bring ideas to fruition, it is highly beneficial to gather diverse views and support from a diverse group of people, in and outside your team. It’s been shown that bringing together diverse groups of people allows innovative solutions and new ways of thinking to emerge that otherwise would not if everyone worked separately.¹², ¹³ Someone outside your circle may provide that breakthrough insight or even some good old common sense that may not be apparent if you’re too close to the project or emotionally invested in it.
Keith Gatto. Innovation, leadership, and positive psychology. The University of California, Berkeley, 2015. Available from http://funginstitute.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Innovation-and-Leadership-through-Positive-Psychology-White-Paper-Final.pdf
Carolyn Gregoire. 18 things creative people do differently. Huffington Post, 2014. Available from http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/creativity-habits_n_4859769
Nathan Zeldes. Quiet time and no email day, pilot data is in. Intel IT Peer Network, 2008. Available from https://itpeernetwork.intel.com/quiet-time-and-no-email-day-pilot-data-is-in/
Innovation in Organizations. Illuminations, Australian Psychological Society, 2012. Available from http://www.inventium.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Innovation-in-Organisations-APS-Shelley-Logan.pdf
Edward D. Hess. Creating an Innovation Culture: Accepting Failure as Necessary. Forbes, 2012. Available from http://www.forbes.com/sites/darden/2012/06/20/creating-an-innovation-culture-accepting-failure-is-necessary/#6e7d46644e19
Carol Dweck. What having a growth mindset actually means. Harvard Business Review, 2016. Available from https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
Harzer, C., & Ruch, W., 2012a. When the job is a calling: The role of applying one's signature strengths at work. Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 362- 371. Available from http://www.zora.uzh.ch/63535/1/174_m_2012_HarzerRuch.pdf
Managers: Turn Goals into Accomplishments. VIA Institute on Character, 2016. Available from https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Professionals/Manager-Business-Leaders
VIA Classification of character strengths. VIA Institute on Character, 2016. Available from http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/VIA-Classification
An approach to human motivation and personality. Self-determination Theory Org, 2016. Available from http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/
Kaomi Goetez. How 3M gave everyone days off and created an innovation dynamo. Fast CoDesign, 2011. Available from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663137/how-3m-gave-everyone-days-off-and-created-an-innovation-dynamo
Jeff DeGraff. The Good, the Bad, and the Future of Creative Collaboration. Psychology Today, 2015. Available from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/innovation-you/201505/the-good-the-bad-and-the-future-creative-collaboration
Nieto, M.J. and Santamaría, L., 2007. The importance of diverse collaborative networks for the novelty of product innovation. Technovation,27(6), pp.367-377. Available from http://e-archivo.uc3m.es/bitstream/handle/10016/12680/importance_santamaria_TECHNOVATION_2007_ps.pdf?sequence=1