Encouraging and Managing Curiosity
Have you ever considered whether your team or organization could act or think differently? Or, are you and your people stuck in a rut, doing things the way that they've always been done?
If so, you might need to stimulate innovation. And you can do this with an injection of curiosity, balanced by some rigorous new systems and processes.
Many people think of innovation as the sole preserve of their organization's research and development department. But everyone, whatever their role, can participate in the process of making something new and valuable.
This article looks at practical steps that you can take to create and support a culture of innovation, through disciplined curiosity.
Why Innovation and Curiosity Matter
Look at some of the most influential businesses around today, such as Google™ or Twitter™ – they drive ahead, securing new and growing markets through constant innovation. And this high-energy, ideas-driven approach isn't limited to the technology sector. Innovation is key to the success of all sorts of organizations.
Innovation isn't limited to your end product or service, either. It can mean developing better or more effective ways of working that allow your people to excel in their roles – and that can lead to a better product or service for your customers.
Successful business leaders make it a priority to be groundbreaking, creative, and curious, and to act on what they discover. Equally, your star team players are likely looking for opportunities to improve their skills, to show initiative, and to share their positive energy with the group.
The benefits of curiosity can include:
- Better identification of opportunities for growth: by being interested in your market and how it is developing.
- More efficient operations: through understanding your processes better, being open to change, and making better-informed decisions.
- Higher sales and greater customer loyalty: by developing improved products and services, and building a reputation for being genuinely interested in customer needs and wants.
- More visionary business development and strategically imaginative partnerships: through combining a creative, enquiring spirit with rigorous business planning, and being open to learning and collaboration.
- More engaged, higher-skilled, and more flexible team members: because you empower them to think creatively and independently, and develop a more tailored approach to learning and development that suits them and their needs.
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Innovation involves generating, analyzing and managing ideas. Not every idea makes good business sense, though. And it won't help the organization if everyone is asking questions but no one is doing the work! So you need to apply discipline, too.
As a leader or manager, try to encourage your people to be curious. This means taking more than a cursory interest in people and processes, both inside and outside the organization. Ask open questions such as, "How could we serve our customers better?" and, "Why do we do it this way?" – and be ready to deal openly with an honest answer!
There are also some steps that you can take to reach every area of your organization:
- Introduce innovation training. Almost everyone can learn to be more creative, through expanding and developing their mindset and observation skills.
- Form self-managed problem-solving teams. Make them responsible for assessing a specific issue, then proposing and, if appropriate, implementing a solution.
- Set up an employee suggestions scheme. Commit to making it transparent and efficient so that people trust and use it.
- Reward great ideas. Your team members will likely be more encouraged to suggest new ideas if they know that you will recognize and reward their efforts.
- Design flexible jobs. Allow people to share jobs and adopt Cross-Training, so that they gain new perspectives and can ask informed and relevant questions.
Our article, Doblin's 10 Types of Innovation®, explores how to spread innovation over multiple areas of your organization, such as finance, processes, product offering, and service delivery.
The Importance of Staying Focused
Innovation needs to be "bottom up" as well as "top down" if it is to become a way of life for an organization. So, try to be a voice for positive change. However, be sure to keep your business needs and objectives in mind, as undirected curiosity or too many "wild ideas" can waste time and not add any value to what you do.
Our article on The Four-Step Innovation Process looks at an approach for generating innovative solutions to complex problems that address defined business needs.
Similarly, you want to make sure that any new ideas or innovations are introduced effectively and successfully. You can manage their development and implementation using The Innovation Circle. The model acts as a checklist to help you to ensure that your innovation actually adds value to your organization and customers, and it can prevent you from overlooking any important aspects of the innovation process.
Also, don't be afraid to look outside your team or organization for inspiration, or for examples of innovation that could benefit your business. Our article on open innovation, has strategies for acquiring technologies and external knowledge. It also shows you how to share your organization's ideas and information with an outside body, in a way that benefits both parties. For example, you could collaborate with another organization to reduce the costs of some elements of R&D.
If you do implement a great idea, or launch an innovation that gives you an advantage over your competitors, you'll want to capitalize on that advantage and prevent imitators from copying your hard work. You can find out how to do this with our article on Teece's Win-Lose Innovation Model.
When you are striving to find solutions to problems or to explore new ideas one of the most useful questions you can ask is, "Why?" If you repeat a task over and over again, you might find it difficult to break that habit or routine. So try to understand how your work affects the team's and organization's purpose, and ask yourself why you're doing what you're doing. This will help you to look beyond your immediate task and to discover ways to be more effective.
You can also use "Why?" to open up creative lines of thought about others' motives and needs. "Why do our customers react like they do?" or "Why is this process so difficult to use?" will stimulate debate and creative thinking, so long as you're tactful!
Use Broaden and Build Theory to create a productive and happy working environment that fosters curiosity and collaboration.
Innovation is about far more than product development or process change – improvements are possible in every area of a business and most often come about through disciplined curiosity.
Everyone in an organization is responsible for delivering an innovation culture but, for that to happen, it needs to be supported at all levels of your organization, and managed so that day-to-day operations aren't compromised.
Set an example by asking open questions and being open to honest answers. Then introduce innovation training, form self-managed problem-solving teams, set up an employee suggestions scheme, reward great ideas, and design flexible jobs.
Practical innovation can bring benefits including more efficient operations, increased sales, and better products and services for your customers.