Like a lot of folks, the members of a team at an important organization are challenged to do more with less, in the midst of stressful times. They asked me to speak about ways they can keep up their energy and become even more innovative. And here are my 10 tips:
1. Think positive. When you are in a negative state, the voice inside your head may say “no” to every new idea, even the good ones. Notice your own reactions, and watch for knee-jerk thoughts like, “this won’t work” or “it’s hopeless.” Choose to re-program your defeatist self-talk with phrases like, “I’m open and willing to try!”
2. Challenge processes. “Continuous improvement” is one term to describe an environment where everyone is encouraged to simplify and clarify the ways that things get done in an organization. You can foster improvement by looking at and questioning every step in the way you gather data, manage projects and report on what you do. Be open to any suggestion or technology that might mean a tiny bit of work reduction or product improvement.
3. Draw a picture and look at pictures. If you organize your plans with a linear outline, you’ll be using the more analytical, left side of your brain. You will more fully engage the creative right side of your brain, as well, if you try something more graphic. Illustrate your challenges or projects with diagrams, using color and icons. Explore free “mind-mapping” software from sources like Wikipedia. And note that some experts say that increasing the visual stimulation in your office’s physical space can inspire people to think more innovatively.
4. Learn something new. If you’re in a slump or feeling bogged down, seek opportunities to study a new field or develop fresh expertise. The topics need not even be related to your job. When you are in learning state, you’ll bring new thinking and different approaches to your work. And when you know more, about a greater range of topics, you will be able to make associations that can turn into innovation.
5. Vary your routines. When you follow the same patterns every day, you may grow less aware of what is happening around you. Something as simple as a new route to work can make you more alert, and open to different ways of thinking. Find ways to change the way you do things. And if your work doesn’t vary much, look seek opportunities to rotate to new projects.
6. Seek collaborators. Research suggests that innovation tends to emerge in environments that encourage collaboration. One reason for this is that innovation emerges from a series of sparks – like from one person to another – and not in a single flash of insight. It can be particularly useful to brainstorm with people from different backgrounds or disciplines. A key, however, is to keep an open mind and actually listen to what the have to say.
7. Focus on your strengths. Identify the skills and approaches that work best for you, and look for additional ways that you might put them to work.
8. Focus on your stakeholders. Remind yourself about your mission and the people who have a stake in the success of your work. Focus on their needs and interests, and ask whether you might serve them in new ways.
9. Be real about deadlines. Avoid unnecessary time pressure by negotiating realistic due dates and staying focused on your top priorities. Schedule blocks of time for your most important work, and stick to your schedule. Don’t be sidetracked by emails and items on your “to-do” list that aren’t really that important.
10. Take breaks. When you work at the same tasks hour after hour, day after day, the creative parts of your brain may start to shut down. To be at your creative best, leave your desk every 90 minutes or so, take lunch breaks, and schedule regular vacations. Research show that you’ll be more productive – not less – if you allow time for renewal.