Most companies understand that being innovative is key to create new opportunities and shape the future, and yet…companies are not in their majority innovative, people are.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” William Pollard

People look for solutions to problems they face from their surrounding – not just at work – and that is how ideas come to the surface, before they may be adopted as part of a plan or strategy.

The human capacity for curiosity drives innovation and most people have it.Unfortunately not every company allows for that curiosity to be fostered, nor do they recognise the efforts of those individuals looking beyond what is in front of them on their daily work cycle. Recognition can be a powerful positive force and is both tangible (i.e. bonus) or intangible (i.e. verbal acknowledgement). These factors tend to be the most common innovation ‘inhibitors’ at work. The company culture may also play a negative role, especially if highly critical of failure. After all, in order to create ideas and foster learning, failure must be an acceptable part of the process. This is a natural part of the entrepreneurial process that so many companies talk about and yet so few fully endorse or are able to emulate.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

The fuel to curiosity, or the desire to know more, is the attitude to question everything and seek to understand with no acceptance for presumed assumptions. This is the only path to success in driving innovation and generating new ideas or ways of working. Another point to consider, which may be difficult for some, is to fully accept that you as an individual does not have all of the answers. However, you do have the power to act as a change agent, surrounding yourself with a wide group of people from different cultures, professional backgrounds and areas of expertise. Curiosity is the vehicle to drive innovation.

The neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Nobel Prize winner in Medicine in 2000, showed that the human mind uses both intuition and analysis to generate thoughts and that neither side of the brain is better than the other in either process. The brain ‘thinks’ through a process called ‘search and combination’ in which memories or fragments of memories come together to spark a new thought or idea. (extracted from book A Curious Mind: The Secret to  Bigger Life: Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman, 2015).

“Creativity is just connecting things, we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Steve Jobs

Companies wanting to improve and ultimately to excel in innovation, should foster the curiosity of their employees and recognise their contribution in creating new ideas. They should encourage people to interact more with parts of the business they are not as familiar with and also with those beyond the company walls.  Otherwise, they are likely to continue to talk about innovation but not embed into their culture nor to extend it beyond those with ‘innovation’ in their job title.

Note: All views on this post are my own and may not necessarily reflect the views of my employer. Others quoted on this post were used for context only.

This blog was originally published in February 2016 on LinkedIn

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