As a business, innovation should be at the heart of everything you do. With the needs and expectations of your customers constantly evolving as new technologies emerge and your competition increases, you need to think outside the box to bring something different to the table. But while you may think that only the big players like Apple, Tesla and Amazon have the power to be innovative, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
‘Innovation’ can be a daunting word and seems like something that’s difficult to put into practice, yet in reality, it simply means to do something new. Just think of the innovative businesses we’ve listed as examples – what one thing do they have in common? They all took relatively simple concepts – like home computers, cars and online shopping – and simply improved them.
Being innovative has certainly paid off for them. Apple is one of the most wealthy technology companies in the world and one that we instantly associate with success. As of this year, Jeff Bazos and Elon Musk (the CEOs of Amazon and Tesla, respectively) are also battling it out to be crowned the richest person in the world. At the time of writing, Musk is currently in the lead.
With all this in mind, how exactly can innovation help you to grow your business and achieve success in 2021 and beyond?
With more and more businesses emerging each day (even during the pandemic), many markets are quickly becoming overwhelmed and oversaturated. So, why should your customers choose you and not one of your competitors who can offer them a similar solution? Being innovative in your actual product or service offering, or even how you market this to consumers can help you to differentiate yourself from your biggest competitors, enabling you to devise fresh solutions to your customers’ problems – or even identify new pain points that no one else has addressed yet.
Advances in technology are responsible for consumers expecting the almost instant delivery of products as well as high levels of customer service being provided around the clock. However, it has also provided companies with digital tools that can enable them to make their workforce more productive, help them think more creatively and improve their business processes. Digital tools also allow businesses to provide the high-quality customer service that consumers have come to expect as standard – and may use in their decision to buy your product over a competitor’s.
Innovative businesses have realized that workers are their most creative and productive when they have more control over when and where they work. This is because not everyone is able to maintain their focus bright and early in the morning – for some, their eureka moments happen in the evening. Being trusted to work from home and choose their own working hours also boosts morale in employees and can result in a better work-life balance. This is because they can use the time they would typically spend commuting to and from their office to completely ‘switch off’ from work and focus on their hobbies and spending time with their loved ones.
Now that you know why it’s vital to embrace innovation in every aspect of your business, what steps should you take to put it into practice?
As we’ve already explained, offering remote working and more flexibility around working hours can help employees to generate more innovative ideas and solutions to problems. Instead of forcing ideas to materialize when their brains are in a fog, they are able to focus on big and important projects when they’re at their most focused and productive. Allowing them to plan their working day around other responsibilities (such as caring for family members, doing the weekly grocery shop and attending doctor’s appointments) can also reduce stress levels – something that has been shown to impact our ability to be creative.
Although many of us are currently working at home due to the pandemic, offering your staff the choice to choose their working hours and work from home a few days a week is something you may want to continue even when social distancing has become a distant memory. Allocating a set amount of time each month (such as one working day) for employees to focus on engaging in creative projects away from the office can also help them develop their innovative thinking skills, which can then be applied to their everyday work.
Hiring neurodivergent talent (employees with neurological differences like dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism) can also help you to create a more diverse (and therefore innovative) culture in your workplace. Neurodivergent people are often very creative because they see the world differently, spotting trends and patterns that neurotypical individuals (those without these conditions) may not have realized – which also makes them innovative problem-solvers.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that some people are born with the ‘creative gene’ while others simply aren’t. However, everyone has the ability to generate great ideas – and like any skill, creative thinking needs to be actively practised in order to keep it fresh. For this reason, try to get as many people as possible involved in brainstorming sessions from different departments within your business. Their different skills and experiences can affect their perceptions and enable them to approach problems from different angles.
Innovation can also be harnessed by utilizing a range of different creative thinking techniques to brainstorm ideas and generate unique solutions to problems. Sometimes, using metaphors and turning a problem on its head can open up a whole realm of new possibilities that you may have never previously considered.
Some useful creative thinking techniques that can help you make your brainstorming sessions more innovative include:
Want to look at a problem from a new angle? Generating innovative solutions can be as simple as reversing your original issue and using the reversal as a trigger for new ideas. So, instead of asking yourself “how can we win customers?”, flip it on its head and consider “how can we lose customers?” instead. This will provide you with a list of actions you want to avoid, which can be the key to more creative problem-solving.
Tip: In Ayoa, we have a number of free templates available to help you brainstorm ideas, plan your work and analyze ideas – including a Reverse Brainstorming Canvas template. Created by Ayoa’s CEO, Chris Griffiths, this template contains helpful prompts to encourage you and your team to look at your problem from various angles.
This problem-solving technique requires you to frame your problem as a metaphor, so you can interpret it from a different standpoint and open your mind to new possibilities. This would mean that a problem such as ‘how to find more customers’ would become ‘how to catch more fish’. By solving the metaphor for your problem, you can place the challenge in a new context, which can help to trigger innovative solutions from different sources of inspiration.
Tip: Unsure of how to reframe your problem as an effective metaphor? Our Metaphoric Thinking Canvas template (created by Ayoa’s CEO, Chris Griffiths) includes a number of examples with dedicated sections for you to create your metaphor, define the steps you need to take to solve it and apply these solutions to your original problem.
Combinational Creativity is a three-step brainstorming tool that (as the name suggests) can help you to be more creative in your thinking by combining your sensible ideas with not-so-sensible ones. By disregarding no idea from the beginning, you can take elements of both your sensible and ‘mundane’ thoughts and wilder sparks of inspiration to generate workable winning solutions that combine elements of both avenues of thinking.
Tip: Ayoa’s CEO, Chris Griffiths, has created a free Combinational Creativity Canvas template so you and your team can easily incorporate this way of thinking into your business processes. With dedicated sections to make a note of sensible ideas, non-sensible ideas and those that are a combination of the two, you can place your focus on generating the best solutions.
Although some of us learn best by listening to information or writing it down, at the end of the day, humans love visuals (such as different colors and imagery), and the brain processes them far quicker than text – 60,000 times faster, in fact! Studies have also concluded that the use of different colors can make us more imaginative. So, shouldn’t the tools you use in your everyday work be as colorful and visually stimulating as possible? If you want everyone in your business to begin embracing innovation, then the answer should be a resounding ‘yes’.
Mind mapping is one tool that is loved for its ability to help us think creatively, thanks to its use of images and visual-spatial arrangement. Beginning with a central idea with interconnected branches radiating outwards that contain short words and phrases, mind maps encourage us to make associations between ideas – which can help us to organize our thoughts and generate even more creative ones. Using mind mapping software to create digital mind maps can help you to make your maps even more visually inspiring by making it extremely easy to change the color and size of your text, customize the style of your branches and add images.
Online whiteboard software has also risen in popularity alongside the trend of remote working – even before the coronavirus pandemic. With the ability to start with a blank canvas, there are endless opportunities to be creative. Many whiteboard apps (such as Ayoa) allow you to create visual mood boards that incorporate digital sticky notes, shapes, lists, file attachments, images, emojis, and even freehand sketches, so you can keep yourself inspired to think creatively while organizing all the vital information you need in one place.
Every business (and every individual) has the power to be innovative. Discover Ayoa, the visual online whiteboard where you can brainstorm your most creative ideas with your team, then turn them into manageable tasks and track their progress in the way that suits whatever project you’re working on. Try it for free today!
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