The New Qualification: Innovation


innovations“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

These words by Steve Jobs talk volumes about how generating ideas and executing them to create powerful innovations can make a difference to our career paths. In today’s post-recession job market, innovation is the new “essential qualification” as employees are hired for their ability to come out with innovative solutions that cut costs, enhance service quality or grow the product portfolio, in a bid to value-add for the organisation!

Though traditionally innovation has been the forte of the corporate R&D team, today more and more companies recognize the need to build a culture of innovation that is fuelled by an idea-driven workforce. The vision of innovation at the workplace, therefore, is one of employees who are constantly pushing the boundaries of their primary job responsibilities to come out with workable solutions based on out-of-the-box ideas.

Everyone is innovative in their own way. Here are some tips to unearth the innovator in you…

Say it’s OK to innovate

The biggest roadblock to innovation is fear; the fear of failure and criticism. You may have a great idea or many of them, but you could hesitate to share it. The concern that you will be judged by others, that the idea might not work, that you may draw too much attention to yourself or even that your idea might be ridiculed comes in the way. You want to play safe, and yet you see your colleagues giving similar ideas and winning accolades. Overcome your fear and be noticed . Organisations respect and admire employees who step out of their comfort zone and think beyond their everyday routine jobs.

Say it’s OK to innovate, just as Larry Page did.

Did You Know?

Google Books germinated from the seed of Larry Page’s thought as he said to Eric Schmidt, then CEO, Google, “We’re going to scan all the books in the world”.

Larry Page, co-founder and currently holding the job of CEO of Google, realised his ambitious dream of creating Google Books – a global digital library that brings the content of millions of books online – through his sheer conviction. He did not care about what people thought of his project, almost pitying his critics for not understanding the significance of his big idea. Instead, he bought a scanner and started scanning books to time the activity, before coming to the conclusion that such a project would be financially and operationally viable . As of March 2012, Google has scanned over 20 million books.


Recognise the Eureka Moment

Every day carries the potential for innovation – the moment when an idea finds application. We get ideas all the time, in a board room, over a cup of tea in the café or while thinking about a problem at hand. The key is to identify and hold ideas that will work (however disruptive they might be) and to capture the ‘eureka moment’. Pen down the thought, take out your stylus and make a note on your tablet or smartphone. Now run with the idea and take your creativity through to application: share your idea with others, let colleagues praise or criticise it, sharpen the idea, validate it and develop it further. Once your team and you are convinced, create a plan and present it to the management team.

Did You Know?

The microwave oven was invented in 1945 – completely by accident. A lucky accident was turned into a potential product by the microwave’s inventor Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon and an electronics genius. The story goes that while fiddling with a microwave-emitting magnetron, Spencer felt a strange sizzling sensation in his pants. He found that due to microwave radiation of the magnetron a chocolate bar in his trouser pocket had melted. He soon turned the complex radiation technology into an everyday cookware invention – the microwave oven – which is still being used today .


Manage your environment

Innovation is not just about the ability to generate an idea but the ability to champion ideas.
Companies today recognise the need to foster creativity & innovation and there is a surge in organisations that appreciate employees with the ability to put forward path-breaking ideas. Organisations such as Google, Apple and Facebook thrive on innovation and offer an environment of trust in which employees are given credit for creativity and even supported through the inevitable failures that go with “creative” risk. While Google is known to give time off to employees for working on innovative ideas, at GE, employees are actively encouraged to take risk. In fact, while hiring employees GE evaluates prospective candidates for their “risk quotient”, measuring their risk-taking appetite . Yet in every organisation, there is an important stage of gaining management support for your idea and the resources to fly with it.

Did You Know?

The launch of Ford Mustang is a remarkable story. Although, Lee Iacocca instinctively knew that Mustang would be a hit, he had a tough time convincing senior executives to buy in to his idea. He, however, took the challenge in his stride and backed by quantitative data based on market research, he persuaded the management that young American adults would be interested in buying small cars . With the launch and smashing sales of the vehicle in mid-1960s, Iacocca proved that ‘taking a risk’ is worth it, when you know how to manage your environment.


Take an idea and implement it

So, you had the Eureka moment. You know your solution will work, but what good would that be if you don’t implement your idea? Innovators believe in implementation, even when it carries challenges. What truly makes you an innovator is your quest to see your idea take form. You become a value-creator, positively impact revenue, generate visibility for yourself and become a role model when you fight inner doubts, face failures and move ahead with to implement your idea.

Remember, you don’t become an inventor unless you implement, just as Edison did…

Did You Know?

As legend has it, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. However, he never gave up. He particularly struggled to find the right material for making the filament and used more than 1,600 materials, including fishing line and even a hair from his friend’s beard! It was only after many failed attempts that he figured the solution – carbonised bamboo . When asked by a reporter how he felt when he failed so many times, Edison had famously responded, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”


In conclusion

Great ideas are not always discovered at a lab table or in the chairman’s room. They are generated by people who try to figure out solutions every day in their jobs, while servicing customers, exploring new markets, understanding competitors, or selling products. Most organisations have made innovation a part of their strategy to grow and harness the insights of their workforce. Now, it’s your time to join the ranks, to create, value-add and innovate!

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