Follow these 10 steps to become an Innovator

How do you Innovate? It is a juvenile question but at the same time it is deep. There is no one way to do it and every innovation is different. In talking to, reading about, and observing many innovators, I started documenting the following:

  1. Educate yourself – just wander. No, I am not talking never getting out of school but building a mentality to learn. If Steve Jobs hadn’t learned about Fonts, Mac wouldn’t be this delightful. Mark Zuckerberg continues to be an embodiment of that with his visits and dialog with people. Simply Wander. I once heard most innovations occur at the intersection of ecosystems. For example, iPhone is an integration of many fields into one – telecommunication, music, movies, camera, GPS, and more. If you were deep, you would be working on one of the fields. If you were broad, you could lead the entire innovation. So educate yourself – just wander.

  2. Connect Like Crazy – your head should hurt. There is always a cause, effect, and possibility. You just have to see it and deliberately think about it. Just think what could Drones do. Just keep thinking to every thing you read about it in a day. Right now, they could be leading the humanitarian effort in Houston, Texas helping with floods. There needs to be no rhyme or reason. Just keep connecting and writing down possibilities – journal them. These are your ideas. For example, Amazon and Jeff Bezos had to educate themselves on drones and then effectively connect it to delivery. They had to connect selling models for eBooks to servers via Cloud. Amazon & Jeff Bezos are both examples of companies and individuals that connect like crazy.

  3. Observe like a maniac – until people think you are creepy. If you don’t know how people do things, then you aren’t going to change it. I will share an example that will make you go ew but that is true to the title. I heard someone say that one of the next generation company will focus on converting the act of defecating into a proactive health device. I said excuse me and the response was Stool is one of the first indicator of many human diseases and if one could integrate into how humans approach it, it could prevent a lot of health issues. At a very simple level, I saw Squatty Potty. It combined the science behind defecation to how people approach it to create a “simple solution”. It may just be the start of that journey. The moral of the story – if you don’t observe, you ain’t changing it.

  4. Be a rebel – ask what if a million times in a day. Most people just go about doing their chores without asking “What-If”. “What If every car could be a cab?” – Uber/Lyft, “What if every spare room were a hotel” – AirBnB, “What if every phone was a computer’ – iPhone. Now ask yourself this – “What if restaurant was not about people going to a place to dine” – write down every alternate that comes to your head. This is the prime connection between innovation and disruption. Innovation is coming up with a thing, disruption is coming up with in a context. Just write down every idea that comes to your head (however ridiculous they may be) and connect like crazy.

  5. Eco-System it – until your hand hurts. Simply mind-map every possible thing you need. Start with the customer (and by the way this is connected to point 3). Work backwards to the origin, work sideways into support activities, use the “What-if” framework to challenge every aspect of that eco-system, think about uncommon partnership, just draw-draw-draw then connect it like crazy.

  6. Talk yourself into it! – people should think you are crazy. The more you talk about it to yourself the more you should love it. Stand in front of a mirror and tell your story, tell it again, observe yourself, and tell it again. You should do it to a point it becomes an obsession, and that is all you speak about with eloquence, with passion. Write down your story as long as you want it to be – 5-pages, 10-pages, a book, and then boil it down to 2-3 sentences. Sweat on those 2-3 sentences because they are going to be your guidepost to bring everyone along!

  7. Now figure out where to start – then simply start. This is a tricky part. There is art and science to it and then there is your heart and gut to it. I haven’t seen an innovation that happened you did point number 6 well. So you have to get started. The simplest way to start is the fastest way to get to your customer with a minimally remarkable product. You have to define what that minimally remarkable product is! The simplest way to answer that is what will a customer find valuable and the thing they will fall in love with and come back again and again. If you do point number 3 well, this should be an obvious one.

  8. Obsess about every thing – until people call you a poor delegator. I am not encouraging you to be a poor leader, all I am saying is, you have to begin to the next level of your passion which revolves around what are you going to call something, how are you going to represent it, what are you going to build, how does it look, what does it say and so on. This will help you improve your point of view, prevent frustrating your team because your point of view evolves every time you see a product. Your obsession is key to success.

  9. Have a team that doesn’t do a job. The 9-5 days are simply gone. Your team has to live the passion/live the dream. While you have the entire accountability to do point number 6 – talk them into it, they have to start believing and living it. You will know the tipping point has occurred when they come to you with an idea proactively, it is aligned to the purpose, furthers the product, and better than what you could put together. If you just have folks who are doing a job, you aren’t going to get there. Unfortunately that is a hard pill. If they push back and rationale it with you – simply let them do it. This is when you have multiplied your innovation.

  10. Ride the roller coaster – know when to talk out of yourself. I once sat in a roller coster with a few college students. They were simply playing a game. They would grab a beer, get on the roller coaster, get off, grab a beer, and then get back on. The person who threw up first would be the “Loser” and the person who sat through last would be the “Winner”. You could call this game a beer coaster. The metaphor I take away from this is drink the kool-aid, live the dream, and know when to get off if you are begin to nauseate! The nausea could be from the ride or could be from wanting to do something different.

If you are wondering, I never spoke about all the buzz words like Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, Lean Startup, Disruptive Innovation Framework, and many other things – I would say the above 10 represent the DNA. Then yes learn these tools, they help you get to the above 10 with more elegance.

Are there other tips or skills to become an innovator? Please let me know via your comments! Look forward to the dialog digitally.


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