Saying that -- and doing that -- can be two different things.
While we might occasionally have an innovative moment, how do we get into the habit of personal innovative behaviors that routinely inspire and influence others?
One helpful technique might be to measure your innovative behavior -- and see how you're doing.
Since different people have started to ask me about this, I thought I'd put some thoughts into a post for your consideration.
And, like most things in life, I'm sure it's not the last word on the subject ...
What Is Innovative Behavior?
For me, it's simply trying to look at things in a new, creative and insightful way. While we can all complain bitterly about what's not right in the world, it's far harder to suggest ideas and approaches that might move things forward in a positive way -- and devoting time to the most promising ones.
In my world, there are three opportunities for innovative behavior. Each is important in its own way.
Innovation Index Component 1 -- Innovation In Daily Interactions
The first is normal interactions with your co-workers and customers. They came looking for one thing, and left with something entirely different and unique: a fresh perspective they didn't have before.
It doesn't really matter if it's an entirely "new" idea in the universe of ideas, what matters is that it's new in their context. Maybe they run with your idea, maybe they don't -- but you've given them a gift they couldn't do on their own.
I look at my email and my face-to-face meetings and ask myself -- in how many of them did I introduce a fresh perspective or suggestion that the recipient said "wow, I hadn't thought of that!". Or even if they didn't react -- did you give it a good try?
I'm running at about 90% in the last few months. I think that's about as good as I can get without annoying people any more.
The person looking for my expense reports isn't really interested in my big thoughts :)
Innovation Index Component 2 -- Supporting Others In Their Innovation
On any given day, there are about 6-12 innovative efforts going on at EMC that I could potentially engage with. They're all cool in their own unique way. But there isn't enough time in the day to meaningfully engage with even a small fraction of them.
I start by mentally budgeting a hunk of work time around this category. It varies depending on a number of variables outside of my control, but in an average week I might spend 4-6 hours in this category.
My first priority is maximizing breadth. I've gotten pretty good at the hour-long hit-and-run: they share what they're up to, I offer up some thoughts, and we hone in on a few ones of mutual interest, and take the next step.
The positioning is essential: it's their party, I'm just there to help as best I can. If they don't want to do what I think is a good idea, I don't take it personally in the least. I think it's the engagement and effort that matters.
So, the second component of my personal "innovation index" is the number of parallel innovative workstreams I can make time for. I could easily get buried in any one of them, but that's not my goal -- I'd rather help out as broadly as I can.
Innovation Index Component 3 -- My Personal Innovation
Yes, I'm standing on the shoulders of giants in many cases, but I'd like to think I'm adding a bit of my own secret sauce to the mix.
I can't write about everything on the blog (after all, it's a public blog) but you can get a sense of what I'm interested in these days, and what I'm motivated to learn more about.
I think that everyone ought to have a handful of topics that they're personally interested in. If they relate to your career and your employer, better yet. And if you can take those same thoughts and externalize them effectively on a blog, that's the best of all in my world.
People routinely ask me how much time I spend per week on blogging. For me, the time spent is a rough proxy on the time I spend codifying and sharing my "personal innovation". It's about 4-6 hours per week for the public blog, and roughly the same amount of time on internal efforts that aren't entirely public yet.
What's Missing From My Index?
I can point to the dozen times or so that's happened over my career, a few of them visible on my blog.
Personally, I don't count these events as part of my "innovation index". At that point, they become mostly about getting the job done vs. coming up with different perspectives.
Simply put, innovation quickly becomes work.
Why Am I Sharing This?
I get to meet a lot of bright and creative people, or -- at least -- people who seem to have that potential.
Very often, they feel stymied and hamstrung in their ability to be creative and innovate. They tend to externalize a lot, and point to things in the world around them vs. their own decisions and actions.
I'm a big fan of self-direction. Set your mind to do anything (or be anything) and you have a decent chance of achieving your goals. One bit of sage advice: be careful of what you ask for, you just might get it!
Personally, I believe that we can bring the most value to our working lives when we learn to be innovative in everything we say and do. When we see the value we can bring, we feel much more positive about everything else, and a virtuous cycle can ensue: you win, and your company wins.
But this isn't the only perspective to making your working life more innovative. My personal hero on this topic is EMC's Steve Todd who's written two good books on the topic, as well as his blog. In one sense, his fascinating with personal innovation has inspired me to do consider the same set of topics, only in my own personal framework.
I guess we could call that "meta-innovation"?
And -- from time to time -- I take a moment to measure my "innovation index" and see how I'm doing :)