Four Signs You're Working Innovatively

by Jeremy Suisted

Over the past few weeks I have been interviewing staff and members of a few organisations, in an attempt to discover more about what innovation means for them. It has been amazing to realise that almost every staff member at one organisation stated the same event as the high-point of innovation for them.

As I began to think more about this one event, four key aspects stood out as key indicators of innovative work. Each of these are positive signs that the work you and your team are doing is meaningful, innovative and a passionate part of your team’s work life.

1. Diversity in the Team. The most common indicator of innovative work was the diversity in the members of the project team. Each of my interviewees remembered fondly the joys of working with a team composed of directors, graphic designers, communicators, administrators and finance. This was not a virtual team; nor was it a team of delegation – but each of these members met together and planned this project together, using their diversity as a strength.

In most of our working lives, we are usually working with people with a very similar skill-set to us. This is great for efficiency, but can limit our innovative potential. By creating special projects, where you and your team are planning, working and communicating with a widely diverse, multi-functional team – you increase your chances of innovative work.

2. Freedom to Experiment. During one of my interviews with a leader of a church, they said that “having a holy disregard to the norm” was key to their most innovative times. They loved the freedom of trying things in a fresh way and not being bound by traditions or history.

This passion was shared by other organisations, with members all speaking of the excitement they felt when they were invited to try something new. The most supportive leader of innovation, according to numerous interviewees – was one business director who would provide a great sounding board, excellent questions, and the three most powerful words they could hear – “Go do it”.

3. Solving a Real Problem. One of the biggest problems in our modern times is an over-whelming sense of meaninglessness. Viktor Frankl, in his insightful work Man’s Search for Meaning said:

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, only by a lack of meaning and purpose”.

In my meetings with people, one of the surest signs of innovative work is when they truly believe the work they are doing is solving a real problem. Eyes light up and voices gain energy when these people talk about the need they have seen, the problems they have faced – and the real changes they are making.

Linking work to a real need and problem is a key skill, and one that will separate out the best leaders from the rest, in the years to come.

4. Measurable Results. In my role as a teacher at a university, I am always amazed by the excitement students get when they are told that I have their graded papers. The question they always want to know is – “What did I get?”.

It’s similar with innovative work – people love to know the result that their work has made. Innovation is about making a difference and bringing about a change from the status quo. 

Participants in my research talked about the number of new clients brought in, or the increase in attendance at their organisation – and linked these clearly to their innovative work. Measuring the results, celebrating them and learning from them are closely linked to innovative work.

This list is by no-means exhaustive, but these four are a great indicator of whether you are involved in innovative work. All of them are easily adaptable and can be implemented relatively easily in your organisation, to help increase the passion, drive and innovation in your life.

Which of these signs is most important to you?

image credit: Wikimedia

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Jeremy Suisted is a Creativity Trainer and Innovation Consultant based in New Zealand. With a background in corporate communication, media studies and education, Jeremy has his finger on the pulse of the latest research in innovation and creativity – and is continually exploring how to link the latest findings to practical, teachable techniques. You can contact him through his consultancy website – www.creativate.co.nz