Evolving towards greatness — 3 habits to find the right path

SpaceX LandingPhoto by SpaceX via Unsplash

When you look for innovation inspiration, it’s natural to look at others that have been successful.  Netflix, Google, Disney, SpaceX, and more have all risen to the tops of their industries by producing innovation after innovation.  And while it’s exciting when Google announces that they’ve developed an assistant that can make phone calls to schedule appointments for you and pass as a real person, it can also be somewhat deflating.  Of course Google can do that. They have billions of dollars and 80,000 employees.  How could little ol’ me ever hope to do something like that?

Fortunately there’s hope. None of these companies started off with a billion dollars.  And even though they’re all in different industries, there’s one thing they all did from the very beginning.  They learned how to evolve. Rather than come up with one big “disruptive” idea over night, they found success through evolution.  By starting small and then taking one small step at a time, they got better and better.

It’s one thing, though, to commit to making small continuous change, but it’s another thing entirely to know what to change or how to change it.  Without any kind of direction, you’ll wind up in an endless spiral. Fortunately there are three tried-and-true methods for finding what to change: feedback, retrospectives, and research.  Through these methods you can ensure that your changes are taking you in the right direction, setting your organization on the path of true evolution.

How to Think Like an Idealist

Idealist.pngPhoto by Tim Gouw via Unsplash

Feedback is absolutely essential to producing a successful innovation. Innovators and designers probably subject themselves to more feedback than just about anyone else. And while feedback is good for the product they’re creating, feedback can take a toll on the creator. Sure it’s truly great to discover what kinda sucks about what you’ve made. But hearing over and over again that what you’ve made isn’t all that great can wear on you. This is why innovators need to be resilient. They need to embrace the mindset of an idealist.

Idealists are strange folks. They’re relentlessly optimistic, but they’re not blind. Far from it. They’re keenly aware of all the imperfections in the world. Seeing so much wrong doesn’t get them down, though. Idealists are the kind of people that believe all problems are solvable. They’re both rationally unsatisfied and emotionally optimistic.

Maintaining this balance takes work, but there are three habits you can practice to help bolster your idealist mindset.

Why Innovators Need to Become Chief Communication Officers (Part 2)

The innovation process requires a lot of communication. It begins by discussing the problem, then talking through potential solutions, followed by clearly articulating how to implement the selected solution, and finally it involves telling (and selling) the innovation’s story. These different stages of communication involve not just the core design team but also every department of the organization (oh yeah, and the people we’re designing for as well). Because of this, designers and innovators need to be elite communicators. We have to think of ourselves as the Chief Communication Officers (CCO) of our organizations.

7 Ways to Build Trust on Your Team

[Success] requires a high-trust working environment, and most business environments are low-trust. In order to own the future of your business, you have to design it around trust.

– Cindy Gallop

Building trust is critical to innovation. Without trust, your team can’t effectively collaborate and experiment. But even though trust is so important, most of us work in environments distinctly lacking in trust. In fact, a recent survey of CEOs found that over half felt trust in their organizations had deteriorated to the point that is was a serious threat to their business. So what do we do? How can we change this rather stark reality and begin to build trust on our teams?

5 Psychological Secrets Every Innovator Should Know

Even in today’s digital age, the cookbook industry is still huge. Major publishing houses hire top-notch designers to work with their bestselling authors. And when you look at the visuals that these designers produce it’s absolutely stunning. Flipping through the books, my eyes and my mouth are always in heaven. So on the surface, it seems like cookbooks are a great example of good design. Big time designers and pretty pictures is a recipe for success right?

Well, if that’s truly the case – that they’re perfect examples of design – then how come every time I go to use one I always find myself frustrated? Even when the recipe is like 5 or 6 steps long I’m lost. What’s going on here? Well, for the longest time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I was looking over my notes from a book that I previously read that I began to understand.

Don’t trust your team? Then forget innovation.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Consider the Tale of Two Companies: TrustCo and ControlCorp.

ControlCorp is full of dreaded middle managers. Anytime you want to do something, you have to get approval from your manager, and she has to get approval from her manager and so on. Most of your day at ControlCorp is spent in meetings updating everyone on what you’re doing (which is often just sitting in other meetings). The employee handbook is filled with so many rules, procedures, and policies, it’s hard to keep them all straight. And don’t even think about suggesting a new way of doing things. Sure, innovation is part of the corporate motto, but the truth is ControlCorp has been doing it this way for a long time, and why mess with something that’s working?

TrustCo is very different. It maybe has a few managers, but for the most part, the place runs itself. You won’t find many rules, either. Sure, there are lots of processes, but they’re always changing, so taking the time to document them never seemed to make much sense. And there are meetings, too, but they’re for feedback and ideation, not updates and approval. TrustCo is not for everyone, though. It’s a place where everything is in flux. There’s no one person who’s accountable for everything; it really depends on the context. And there’s no one really telling you what to do, so you’d better be good at figuring that out for yourself. If ambiguity is not your thing, then you probably ought to look elsewhere for work.

Don’t Have Time to Read the Bestselling Book on Feedback? I gotchu.

No matter what project you’re working on, no matter what role you have, and no matter how long you’ve been doing it, giving and receiving feedback is important. This isn’t really an earth-shattering idea nor does anyone deny that. But despite the fact that everyone claims to know how important feedback is… we never really get taught how to do it and quite frankly we’re often afraid of it. This was the main reason I was so excited to read the book called “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. And my quick feedback on the book is that it doesn’t disappoint.

thanks for the feedback

First, Let’s Meet the Authors.

Douglas and Sheila are both lecturers on Law at Harvard Law School and cofounders of Triad Consulting. They’ve worked with some pretty big time players like the White House, Citigroup, Honda, Johnson & Johnson, Time Warner, & Unilever. So yeah, they’ve got some experience working with big players and getting feedback from important people. They decided to take their experiences and break it down into an easily digestible and comprehensive look at giving and receiving feedback. Here are my 8 takeaways from the book.