Some of the greatest innovators may eat, sleep and breathe in Silicon Valley, but you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to be innovative. Nor do you even have to be an entrepreneur.
We all have the potential to be innovative, not just in business, but in every aspect of life.
Innovation isn’t in the clouds. It’s in the details; in the products and services that we rely on in our lives.
How do we become more innovative? Learn how to unlock the innovator in you with these three steps:
1. Break Down the Elements.
Innovators rarely invent a new product. Most innovation comes when you tweak, enhance or change a product that’s already out there.
Steve Jobs didn’t invent the phone, mp3 player or camera. He just packaged them together.
Uber didn’t invent cabs; they just modernized communication to the drivers.
Since innovation often comes in the changes we make to existing products and services, if you want to improve something, you need to break it down to its core elements.
When you look at a product or service, don’t just see the forest, find the trees. Start looking at the various parts that comprise that product or service.
Take glasses, for instance. They are made up of frames, glass and lenses.
Remove the frames and voila, you’ve got contacts. Switch out the glass for a darker lens and sunglasses appear. Get rid of the prescription and behold, fake glasses. You would be surprised how many people wear glasses just for the look.
The better you see a product or service for its fundamental parts, the better able you are to identify specific aspects that could be modified or improved.
Whenever you look at a product or service, ask yourself, “Where can I subtract, change or add something to one component that would make it better or serve a new purpose?”
This approach will set you on a path toward innovation.
2. Show A Little Empathy.
If you boil it down to its essence, innovation is just a new way to solve an existing problem.
You can’t solve problems without cultivating empathy. Empathy is when you put yourself in the shoes of your constituents share their feelings and relate to their pain, their struggle and their conflict.
When you appreciate someone’s struggle, you are in a greater position to figure out how to help them.
Don’t mistake sympathy for empathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is about putting yourself in their shoes, and walking a few miles.
Do you sympathize with your clients, boss or colleagues, or do you empathize with them? Sure, it’s important to care about them, but what bothers them? What keeps them up at night? Really challenge yourself to identify with their needs.
Until you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you won’t be able to innovate a solution.
3. Visualize the Ideal Solution.
To really implement change, you need to visit the world of the ideal. The most creative ideas emerge when you have room to think freely.
The problem is, as soon as we have a idea, we immediately try to figure out how we can make it work on a practical level. We get so constricted by “real world” restrictions that we miss out on great opportunities for change.
If you want to be an innovator, leave reality and all of its limitations at the door for a little while, and spend time visualizing the ideal.
Albert Einstein learned the power of visualization at an early age. His school used the teaching methods of Johann Pestalozzi who believed that visualization was one of the mind’s most powerful features and that imagery was where all knowledge started.
At 16, Einstein used visualization and thought experiments to discover that the speed of light was always constant. Later in his life, he wrote: “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.”1
Clearly, Einstein grasped the importance of stepping outside the world of limitation to explore new possibilities.
Sit down and visualize how your product would work in a perfect world or what an ideal solution to your problem would look like.
After you’ve really conceptualized the ultimate vision, you can start exploring how much of the ideal you can make real.
Innovation isn’t reserved for a few MIT grads working in Silicon Valley. Every one of us can tap into a more innovative way of thinking and make new realities possible.
So, what are you waiting for?