5 Way to Be More Innovative

The word “innovation” gets thrown around a lot these days; as we continue to mythologize the excitement and cache of starting our own businesses, the behaviors of successful entrepreneurs continue to leak into all of our careers. Whether you’re trying to succeed within a large company, trying to break into a new industry, or actually running a fledgling startup, it’s expected that you’ll challenge the status quo – that you’ll **disrupt** – but we all know changing an established system isn’t easy.

Luckily, the secrets to innovation aren’t locked up in Zuckerberg or Elon Musk’s brains; inspiration and insight on how to create the world you want to live in runs deep in the Ellevate community.

At the #MobilizeWomen Summit, we brought together Alex Friedman, Co-Founder of LOLA; Gigi Lee Chang, Managing Director, FoodFutureCo and Founder, Plum Organics; Karen Potter, Director, HR and Technology, Citi; and Colleen Rye PhD, Chief of Telehealth, Office of the Army Surgeon General, to share the lessons they’ve learned about innovation across small startups, enterprise, and government.

Lesson #1: Remember – innovation isn’t just for techies.

“You can be the idea person, the policy person, the operations person – all of those roles are necessary for innovation. Everyone can be innovative in their own space.” – Colleen Rye, PhD

“Technology and innovation do meet – but we often look for technology to provide solutions and solve things for us. That’s not a full approach; it has to be a blend of technology with culture, with inclusion, with people – that all comes together. Technology is amazing – but what’s the business need? What are we trying to accomplish with it? What are we doing culturally to implement this technology?” – Karen

Lesson #2: You need resilience – find it through passion.

“Know that there will be failures – be okay with that, and keep pushing forward.” – Alex

“Passion is critical. If you’re not super passionate about the idea and solving a problem you face, it’s hard to always be looking around, thinking about competition, bringing in new ideas, and to think innovatively and creatively about where you want to be going.” – Gigi

“Even if you’re not passionate about an idea, if you’re paired up with someone who is, it’s contagious. Even if it’s not your idea, being surrounded by the right team can build your passion to explore the opportunity in front of you.”

Lesson #3: Invest in your relationships.

“Put your network together to support whatever your goals are – you need to be able to ask questions and learn. People are very giving and open to sharing their experience and contacts when you come ready to learn.” – Gigi

“Being a corporate entrepreneur requires a lot of getting people to buy in to your ideas – getting them to respect you – once you get that buy in and respect, you’re able to challenge the system and status quo more. Once they see you can make incremental move forward, you’ll see the tide start to turn more.” – Karen

“Innovation depends on interpersonal relationships – you need to know the right people to present your idea to who will push your idea through. A lot of innovation is floating around but won’t ever appear on the right desk.” – Alex

Lesson #4: Be open to creativity.

You may not feel like an innovator – or you may feel like you work on a team that isn’t innovative – but the right environment, coaching, and sponsorship can promote innovation.

“I used to think I was a process person – but I’m also a creative person. You can learn and evolve; I founded one company, and it pushed me into creative, entrepreneurial roles.” – Gigi

“As founders, we lead by example. Nobody has ego, and if you see a way to get from point A to point B, you should share it. My co-founder and I always share our crazy ideas – and we get shot down by the team – but we want to foster that “how might we” type of discussion that invites everyone to contribute. It’s not the idea from the senior person that we go with – it’s the best idea in the room.” – Alex

Lesson #5: Own your approach, knowledge, and unique point of view.

“It takes a person to know what their own problems are to think of a solution. If you have a problem and can recognize it, you have an advantage.” – Alex

“Don’t be fooled by what everything you read about people turning their lives upside down to start businesses; most people I know who were successful kept their day job and tested their idea. Behind all the success stories are a lot of years of building blocks and risk minimization.” – Alex

“Technology can be used as a weapon or a tool. It’s easy to let people use tech as a weapon against you – “this is just how we do it” “this is how much it costs” – if you don’t know enough to ask and challenge that, you should put yourself in a place where you’re informed enough to challenge those statements. Ask them to explain it to you further. Question assumptions and make tech work as a tool for you, not against you.” – Karen

This post was written by Rebecca Spitzer, originally published on Ellevate, and shared with permission.

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