Not every new idea is an innovation. It takes a process of creative tension to create real innovations. Only those who venture beyond borders, courageously take other paths and give freedom to fools will increase diversity, break patterns, boost their own adaptability and thus create the basis for innovative developments.   

What are innovations? And how can I stimulate them?

The call for innovative and disruptive ideas becomes ever louder in the face of the dynamic conditions of the market. Only those who are prepared to redefine the rules of the game will stay ahead. Innovations are novelties that improve the customer benefit of a product or service, or reduce their costs, so that they offer a competitive advantage. An innovation »solves a problem« of the customer or »satisfies a need«. The added value created is the bottleneck through which an idea must pass in order to become a genuine innovation. In addition, the right timing determines the success of an innovation: only when it is mature and comes at the right moment does an idea become a real innovation. A purely technical novelty that no one wants or needs is no innovation.

How do I get innovative ideas?

  • Fun and curiosity are the basis for creativity. So stay curious and allow yourself to question the tried and tested.
  • Questions are the answers: Look for the right questions! Think about it: “What question do I have to ask myself in order to come up with new ideas?”
  • Stress and time pressure block creativity. Creativity needs freedom.
  • Premature criticism destroys creativity.

What are the characteristics of an innovation culture?

  • Diversity acts as a catalyst for creativity. Monocultures can produce a good standard. But only diversity in a company creates positive tension that can be used creatively.
  • Creative ideas only have a chance of survival if there is a forgiving culture of error. Unfortunately, »zero error« also means »zero creativity«.
  • In addition, agile methods such as SCRUM & Co. work with short and frequent feedback loops. Instead of elaborating plans that are differentiated down to the last detail, they sprint to manageable intermediate goals – and then evaluate and sharpen them along the way.

Good leadership promotes innovation in the company

How can managers provide a framework for innovation and innovative people in the company? From the neuroscientific point of view, leadership must protect basic neurobiological needs. Therefore, leadership must provide a safe framework – to try out, experiment, make mistakes and learn. Only then can »out-of-the-box« thinking succeed. In addition, good leadership supports the employees’ need for personal development (see Positive Leadership). Find out more about modern forms of leadership in our »Leadership of the Future« series.

It is essential that there is room for resonance within the company: Leadership must provide feedback – not just once a year in the official employee appraisal interview – and not just anonymously in the 360-degree feedback. Rather, a lively resonance culture also requires personal feedback in the daily 1-to-1. Leading people also means being able to give them meaningful feedback – feedback that is both clear and appreciative.

The fool as a cultural driver of innovation

The fool at the royal court had the special privilege of being permitted to express his opinion openly – and to hold up the mirror to the king. He caused creative unrest and allowed himself to break the rigid chains of conventions. In the best case, a company institutionalizes the »breaking of rules« as a recurring reminder that the confrontation with non-conformity is necessary for creative tension and innovative work. This is not about proclaiming anarchy in the company, but rather about establishing spaces in which creative ideas can develop into innovations.

We know from our own field research: In the Indigenous societies of North America that we have visited, the »Heyoka« is known. Similar to the fool, he turns the traditional world upside down, performs rituals »the wrong way round« and apparently contradicts the code of values through his actions. Heyoka are those who cross traditional boundaries – or think and act »out-of-the-box«. They often build bridges to external people and thus open the tribe to outside influences.

Pattern disruption – flip side exploration

Do you want to be a role model for innovative and disruptive thinking? Do you want to increase your adaptability? Do you also want to be able to deal more easily with involuntary pattern disruptions? – Then we have a simple but challenging exercise from our book on self-leadership for you.

Instead of waiting for the forced turns of life, this exercise is about getting to the bottom of one’s own patterns of action and thought – and then consciously deciding to break out of this routine. This is how it works:

  1. For the start of your pattern breaking routine choose a period when you feel reasonably free from external constraints (e.g. on weekends or holidays) and no one is directly dependent on your decisions.
  2. Do things that are untypical for you or that you have never done before. Things that you can reconcile with your values, but of which you normally would say: “That is not my cup of tea “. It doesn’t have to be big thing and it can also refer to less important aspects. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Go to a store that you would otherwise never enter, and look at the assortment there.
  • Buy a magazine in a well-stocked magazine store that you would otherwise never buy – e.g. for a hobby that is absurd for you or a classic women’s magazine as a man and vice versa.
  • Surprise your partner with something you have never done before.
  • Eat something you have never eaten before.
  • Visit a flea market and haggle over knick-knacks.
  • Walk consistently against the current on the sidewalk or in the pedestrian zone and smile at each of the people you meet.

3. After this experience of consistent pattern breaking, reflect on the following questions and note down your thoughts and insights.

  • What surprising experiences have I made? Was I able to discover something interesting for me in the new?
  • What thoughts went through my head while I was acting so atypically?
  • Which mental – perhaps even self-imposed – barriers restrict me?

Photo credits: © | Sunny studio