by Tom Phelps
Charles Darwin said that it is not the most intelligent or the strongest that survive, but that those most adaptive to change who survive. This holds true especially in the business world. What was effective and revolutionary last may be outdated today. Change is constant and whether the catalyst is the economy, technology, or globalization only those who can adapt to the changes will find themselves in a position of success. Those who attempt to hold on to the way things are will be left behind.
When it comes to your career, there are two paths from which to choose. A conventional route that is well travelled with a known strategy and accepted by the vast majority of your colleagues, friends and family. The other path is unconventional, one that has not been paved or has seen very few travelers. Traversing this path demands an approach and thought process that strays from the known and explores new, different and even situations with risk. Discovering this path requires an open mind, an understanding of your talent and passion and discovering a need, either consumer or corporate.
As the external business environment changes your career is subject to change. Making yourself indispensible to your employer or clients is the only true way to gain security in the new business world. So, choosing the safe, tried and true path for your career is actually not safe at all. Failure to adapt may bring unwanted attention. If job cuts or right-sizing initiatives are initiated, those who are least adaptive are often the first to go. Employers and customers today need people who are willing to think about new ways of solving a problem. They need an innovative thinker who chooses the path less travelled, who takes educated risks, solves problems, fills needs and is not afraid to be wrong. More importantly, what they want are people who are willing to risk being different and not afraid to be right.
There are several methods to spur on innovative thinking. Here are a few of the most productive.
- Take a nap. Wrestling with a challenge can create a “mind lock.” When your mind is locked, it is not open to new, innovative ideas. Thomas Edison, the great American inventor, said that most of the solutions to his challenges came while drifting off to sleep or right after waking from a nap. A fresh mind is clear of clutter and is open to thoughts that would otherwise be dismissed by a mind engaged in problem solving.
- Re-define the problem. Tony Robbins, a sought after coach and well known motivator, is quoted as saying that, “Part of the problem is how we define the problem to ourselves.” Innovative thinkers know that to effectively solve a problem, they must first re-define the problem, giving it a new perspective so that it is solvable. For example, instead of lamenting that your revenue budget is too high to reach in tough economic times, say instead, “How can I reach my target realizing that my clients may be faced with economic challenges?” A better question, a more positive question, will yield a better result.
- Expand your circle of influence. Your peer group has more influence on your thinking and behavior than you may realize. The fact is that people live up to or down to the expectations of those that surround you. If you aspire to the greatness that innovative thinking can afford you, ask yourself if your peer group inspires you to think beyond the expected. There is no need to discard your friends but expanding your peer group to include more people that can either inspire you or enlighten you to new ways of thinking will do great things for your professional development.
- Create a mind map. A mind map can be as simple as writing down a problem on a sheet of paper, circling it, and then drawing out branches of potential solutions. When doing a mind map, be spontaneous and do not edit. Give all ideas some thought and follow each to its end. What may begin as a crazy idea may end up being the one that lands you in the corner office.
Innovative thinking opportunities are all around you. In every process, there is probably at least one step that could benefit from your creative thinking. Think of a recurring problem or inconvenience screaming for someone to think of a radical solution. Look at it from a new perspective and step up with an innovative idea.
A successful entrepreneur, for whom I once worked, gave me a powerful example of how desperately employers want innovative thinkers. I marched to his office to complain about a problem customer. After listening to what I thought was a compelling story about why the customer should be fired and why nothing we could do would convert him into a happy customer, he dropped down to floor and began crawling around as if he had lost something. When he stood up I asked him what he was looking for. He told me he was looking for my solution to the problem. He told me that his expectation is not a rant about an inconvenient customer, but rather that if I presented a problem I would also present the solution, and take care of the problem. What he wanted was an innovative-thinking employee who would spend minimum effort on a problem and maximum effort on the resolution.
Next time you feel drawn to complaining or following a broken process, picture your employer or a client crawling around on the floor, looking for your solution. Change your perspective and ask yourself a better question. One that leads to an innovative solution that can launch your career to new heights of success. The views from the top are spectacular!