We are innovators. I think innovation is such a buzz word these days that it seems like a label that belongs to people who are younger, hipper, more relevant than we are.

Nah. It belongs to us. Why? Here’s my favorite definition of innovation from Encarta Dictionary: a new invention or way of doing something. A new way of doing something, not just creating something new. Are you there yet? Are you thinking, oh yeah, I do come up with different ways of doing things. That’s innovation. Own it. Celebrate it.

Moms, the original innovators

I’m writing this on Mother’s Day, so I’ll ask you this question. Who’s more innovative than a mom? No one. Seriously. No one. We have to come up with instant strategies for everything from figuring out how to get our toddlers from point A to point B to getting our teenagers to realize that, even in the midst of their teenage angst, there is a way forward. Parenting is the ultimate exercise in incremental innovation – tweaking. If I change this one factor, what happens with my child?

Jedi Mind Tricks

Here’s one of my favorite stories. It shows you how I was getting ready for a coaching career 24 long years ago. Bo and I wanted Ken to suck his thumb – well, it really didn’t matter what we wanted. Actually, after trying 12 different types of pacifiers before he found his thumb, we realized that the thumb was the answer. But there was the age old problem of sucking your thumb can mess with your teeth.

Luckily for all of us, I already had 10 years of experience of using Jedi mind tricks (for the record, my birthday is May 4th, so it’s kind of a given that I use them, you know, May the 4th be with you) on my stepson Alex. Things like sitting next to him, reading a book while he did his homework because I had noticed that when I just sat there, with no interaction, he could do his homework. If I wasn’t there, he struggled to get it done.

So, when it came time to think about the ultimate effects of thumb sucking on the mouth of my child, I got out my Jedi manual, and came up with the brilliant idea of telling him exactly what our dentist had told me, “Ken, it’s okay to suck your thumb, but when you’re 5 you’ll need to stop.” Guess what. It worked. Really, it did. On his 5th birthday he stopped sucking his thumb. Jedi mind trick or innovation? You be the judge.

Innovation equals tweaks

Incremental Innovation

In Episode 78 of our Uniquely Brilliant Podcast, Diana and I talk about Incremental Innovation, or, as we like to say, the art of the tweak. It’s the final episode we recorded around the 3 types of innovation: Disruptive, End User, and, finally, Incremental.

Hope you’ll listen to the podcast by clicking on any of the links above. Here’s an expanded version of our show notes about incremental innovation.

Show Notes

  • Incremental innovation is really the art of the tweak. It’s not about making huge gigantic changes; it’s the little strategies and tweaks that make things a little bit easier, more effective. Things that make the process smoother.
  • As people with uniquely brilliant minds, we identify problems and see solutions other people cannot even imagine. We’re naturally inclined to innovative thinking. Since we see things differently from the outset, we see strategies that others would never recognize, much less put in place!

Innovation cures pain

  • As innovators, we solve problems by identifying pain points that people experience, including our own pain points – remember that time in the restaurant when your child was 4?
  • When we learn how to talk about our innovations in terms of how it helps cure those pain points, it makes it easier for people to connect with our ideas. And the smaller the innovation, the easier it is to connect to it.
  • As a coach, I love to come up with innovative strategies to help my clients access insights about themselves, their skills, and experiences so they feel powerful and relevant. I try to find the least little step they can take to move forward.

Tweak the way you talk about yourself

  • These tweaks yield huge results. For example, when we tweak how we talk about ourselves, we can claim our power in new ways. I’ll never forget the time I was going over an assessment with a high school senior. The assessment described him as “leading-edge,” which is 100% accurate. He’s uniquely brilliant and comes up with amazing ideas that he implements to create both incremental and disruptive change. He read that word out loud and just grinned. We talked about how it applies to him. He knows he’s different, that he can come up with solutions to problems others didn’t even see.
  • After seeing “leading-edge” on that assessment, he tweaked how he described himself. He staked his claim to that power.
  • I also have clients who come to me feeling like they should have done more, accomplished more in their lives. And I’m here to tell you that every single one of them has accomplished amazing things!
  • The moms I work with are particularly adept at diminishing the impact of their work and their ability to find solutions to immediate problems. I absolutely, unequivocally believe that anyone who has raised (or is raising) a kind, thoughtful, caring human being is completing the most important work there is. Period. End of story. Own it.
  • Businesses are looking for people who can improve products and processes without reinventing them. Tweaks are cheaper than overhauls!

Introverts and Extroverts

  • Introvert/ extrovert roles come into play with innovation. Some innovators do a lot of internal processing before they share their ideas with others. They don’t want to talk it out. Talking it out is distracting.
  • Others need to hash out their ideas verbally, tweaking the ideas (tweaking their tweaks?) as they hear how others react to them. For them, the back and forth is stimulating.
  • Innovation takes place when there’s (1) space to talk about the innovation and (2) space for people to embrace the change on their own terms. This is tricky for some of us (finger pointing at me).

Savvy innovators are patient

  • You know how people say you can’t rush progress. Well, we can’t rush innovation either because some people are afraid of change.
  • Sometimes innovative ideas need to set out there in the world, gathering their own momentum until people are ready to accept the change.
  • Innovation can feel threatening. That’s okay. Savvy innovators are patient. They find a way to believe in their innovations even in the midst of skepticism.

Obligatory Steve Jobs story

  • Steve Jobs and the iPhone (smartphone) is a great example of a savvy and patient innovator. He saw the need and the possibilities inherent in having a computer in your hand. The experts scoffed, but he stood his ground. And we all came around to his way of thinking. Can you imagine life without your smartphone? I write blog posts, create email campaigns, and do my bookkeeping on my smartphone. It’s life changing. Of course, for the record, the iPhone represents disruptive change, but the apps we run on it are tweaks.
  • We can acknowledge that change has to happen at its own speed, not ours. Not everyone adjusts to change at the same speed. In tech, we like to talk about first adopters. You know who they are. They’re our friends who always have the newest smartphone or tablet or laptop or gadget. Then there are those of us who hang back to see how the new gadgets work.
  • When we respect others’ need to take time to adapt to new processes, we reap better results.

It’s worth the wait

  • Sometimes it’s hard to wait for people to adopt to change. But, if we take the time to give them space, amazing things can happen. Our manager suddenly starts using our ideas about having more effective meetings. Our kids suddenly start putting their stuff in the cool baskets we put on the stairs. We have to remember that we’re playing a long game here. When we do, we get to enjoy watching our incremental innovations, our tweaks, make things better for the people around us!
Stay ferocious – it’s crazy out there!