I had a great time at the ACS-W “Innovation and Diversity” event last night hosted by Suncorp. Some takeaways for me:
You Can Be Innovative in a Big Corporation
It was great to see that a company as large and well known as Suncorp has embraced innovation and how well it has placed them. It’s not just about telling everyone that they’re innovative; Suncorp walks the walk too. They have Innovation Days, “ShipIt” days where they aim to invent, design and implement a new product or project in one day, and have adopted the Agile methodology of delivering fast and frequently.
The key point for me here is that the culture needs to be created to embrace innovation, embrace failure, embrace rapid change and that’s something that a lot of big corps – and Government – don’t usually do. You need a management team who can see the value add in allowing their teams to innovate, even if sometimes it seems to be extraneous to their everyday job.
Leverage Those Around You (particularly when they know more than you)
The UTS “u.lab” programs encourage innovation through bringing completely disparate groups of people together, throwing them into teams and then asking them to solve big picture problems and develop the ability for students to think outside the box.
The interesting part was hearing about putting different disciplines together to leverage each others’ abilities and skillsets. For example, it could be helpful for a group to be able to visualise an idea, and thus utilise the skills of a graphic designer to imagine the solution to a public transport problem (usually not within their job descriptions). I thought this was a fantastic way of collaborating.
Funnily enough, in our tables (we were split into tables for various icebreaker and interactive innovative activities!) the people I was with were willing to collaborate even when we were instructed not to (oops!). It really says to me that humans are social people by nature, and sometimes it just takes the right atmosphere or situation to get completely random people thinking and working together innovatively.
Tools Help, But Ideas Are What Count
We are in an internet-enabled smartphone tablet laptop world where it almost feels like it’s a crime to use paper to come up with new ideas, especially when they work in IT. It wasn’t mentioned specifically in the presentations but I feel that we collaborate so much better over butchers paper and Texta markers than on our iDevices. I definitely think there is a future in cool collaborative tools (like this awesome collaborative surface or whiteboard paint) but at the end of the day people don’t need fancy tools to be innovative.
In fact, it probably encourages being innovative that you don’t have the technology that we are used to – it forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It also encourages learning and an inquisitive nature: “how can I use this doodad to solve a problem I might have used my awesome iPhone for?”
How Does This Help Me Become More Innovative?
Number One is understand your strengths and weaknesses (as helped very greatly by Yu Dan Shi’s presentation of Realised and Unrealised Strengths – maybe a post on that another day). This will help you find areas you can easily innovate in (because you love them and are good at them) and those which you will need help from others (because you hate doing it or you aren’t skilled in that area yet).
Number Two is to find people around you who you can collaborate and innovate with. Even in large corporations there will be a way, even if it’s not currently the culture. From your network you will find people who have strengths where you have weaknesses, and vice versa; utilise their skills and your own to generate new ideas (and don’t worry about which tools you’re using!)
Number Three is to get out there and do it. This is the one I am doing right now, trying to practise what I preach and take the courage to fail. Even set myself up for failure in lots of startups, just so we can get used to the process and learn something. To be honest, innovation is really difficult when you’re in a 9-5 job and when you get home you just want to zone out!