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  • Writer's pictureTara Rethore

3 New Ways to Aid Innovation

Innovation is routinely top of mind among the executives I advise (as I noted here.) Yet moving directly from ideation to innovation requires more than a leap of faith.


Bringing innovation to life requires something else: a lot of iteration.


Fred Mandell reminded me of this in a recent conversation about the building blocks that allow innovation to flourish. Fred and his business partner, Harvey Seifter (both of Creating Futures That Work®) are experts in helping leaders to unlock the power of innovation within their teams. A key piece of that lies in learning to iterate effectively.

 

To iterate is to do or say something repeatedly. Yet simply doing something over and over again will not magically produce innovation. (Remember this colloquial description? “Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.”)

 

Iteration requires both experimentation and learning.


A typical iterative process is a nearly continuous loop of planning, building, testing, and learning. This simple cycle works across disciplines (it’s not just for engineers or product designers) and can help with very thorny, complex challenges. And of course, iteration benefits from an environment in which failure is embraced as an opportunity to improve.

 

Three new ways to aid innovation.


Innovation benefits from incorporating three additional approaches throughout the iterative process:

 

  • Seeing things differently. Research confirms that artists see the world very differently from non-artists. Literally. Their eyes scan not only the object or focal point, but also the setting or its context. Non-artists tend to focus more intently on the central theme. Learning to see better by turning things around, shifting your angle, or focusing on what’s not visible (the negative spaces) expands the view in unexpected, potentially useful ways.

  • Deploying varied techniques to experiment. Traditional iteration – and indeed the cycle itself – encourages repetition. Using the same tools to test ideas or functionality offers a control mechanism that’s useful for comparing outcomes. This may also inadvertently limit the range of possibilities, both for what works and what else may be helpful or needed. Instead, deploy varied techniques to test or refine specific elements of the whole.

  • Asking smarter questions. Skilled researchers know that the quality of the answer is highly correlated to the quality of the question. In fact, it’s the topic of a Harvard Business Review article. The authors rightfully explain that smarter questions “don’t come spontaneously; they require prompting and conscious effort.” For more effective iteration, ask questions that are specific and explore feasibility or clarity. Both can reveal gaps in thinking, executing, and communicating the ideas.

 

In their work, Fred and Harvey access the arts (visual, literary, performance) to bring these skills to life in new and meaningful ways for leaders.[1] Even rank amateurs (like me!) can learn and use an artist’s vision and tools to iterate – and innovate – more effectively, thus accelerating progress.

 

While innovation is often captivating, it is not magic. It requires deliberate attention and iteration to transform ideas to outcomes – the products, services, approaches that deliver value for your customers and business. Savvy CEOs incorporate three additional techniques in their iterative processes to unlock the power of experimentation and learning more quickly and effectively. Their teams more effectively iterate to innovate.


[1]Contact Tara Rethore to explore how arts-based experiential learning can benefit your teams.

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