Whether you’re an entrepreneur or the leader of a company with lots of employees, innovation is a vital resource. We have to keep moving forward. However, innovation can often be difficult to relate to. What is it exactly and how do we do it?
Instead, it may be more tangible to strive for curiosity as a platform for innovation. This is elaborated by Julie Kjaer-Madsen, Designer and Master Practitioner in Innovation and Business Development, in this article (in Danish).
With a curious mindset your company is aware of your customers, new tendencies and how the market develops. Curiosity makes you ask “Why?”, “What if?” etc., and with these questions comes a refined ability to listen and find answers.
Kjaer-Madsen recalls a company she helped drawing a cartoon of the customer buying process. This way, they were able to see an otherwise familiar situation from a brand new perspective, and they were able to fix sensitive circumstances and optimize the entire process. Also, the company was able to improve the well-being of the employees in direct contact with customers.
Curiosity is something that concerns everyone in the company, according to Kjaer-Madsen, while innovation is often an aspect reserved for the few. But we don’t have to reinvent, we just need to be curious and willing to look for new possibilities. We must be ready to change and adapt, capable of listening and prepared to ask ourselves and each other why we do things the way we do them.
In this article (in Danish), Anja Hoffmann, founder of the company Sentio Lab, points out how there’s room for both curiosity and KPI’s in our workplace. We tend to focus too much on the latter, yet we cannot be innovative if we only think in terms of KPI’s, growth and profit. Instead, we have to pursue the uncertain and the alternative.
Hoffmann suggests that you take a critical look at your own leadership and how you handle the increasing level of complexity and change. How you examine, experiment and develop as a company.
As an example, Hoffmann mentions Google who has devoted 20 % of their employees’ time to self-chosen projects. And as a bonus, this approach attracts even more innovative minds to the company.
But what fits your company? Which technologies and trends will affect your industry short-term and long-term?
Management must be ready to not just evaluate employees based on their ability to fulfil goals and KPI’s, but also their ability to relate critically and curiously to the company. Can you create ideas for new prototypes, partnerships or income channels? Can you optimize and automate work processes?
Rachel Hentsch from Entrepreneur highlights how curiosity is an important ingredient for good leadership, healthy company culture, successful teambuilding and personal development. And who are the absolute pioneers in terms of curiosity? Children! They are the ones we must learn from. Hentsch suggests five tangible approaches:
Children often reply with a “Why?” when we try to explain them even the most obvious things. It’s one of the first things they do when they learn to speak. This way, they can develop their understanding of the world and all of its content. This thirst for knowledge must be stimulated, and as adults, we should actually try to adopt it. Or rather, rediscover it, because it’s still buried in us deep beneath self-censorship, manners and politeness.
You can do this by making a habit out of asking “Why?” again and again, when new problems occur, until new perspectives automatically appear. These perspectives pave the way for new solutions. We start to think more thoroughly and assiduously, like when we want to provide a good answer to our children’s “Why”. The question is very simple, but it makes us track down causes and effects, which allows us to solve lots of issues.
Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to admit that we don’t know anything about a certain topic. Even to ourselves. Children don’t have that limitation. To them, ignorance is not uncomfortable or awkward, it’s an opportunity to learn something new, and that’s also how we need to think of it.
For instance, you can do a lot about the small things in normal life, which gradually expand your comfort zone, your curiosity and your engagement. You can smile at everyone you meet every day. You can spend to hours a week with someone you actually don’t like. Small steps pave the way for big change within us.
Children create, deconstruct and create again and again. Whether it’s LEGO, a cave or something else. You can copy this approach and build prototypes instead of spending all your time on theorizing. Children don’t build to gain power or advantages, they create for the mere joy of creating.
Children tend to turn things we take for granted and inside out. Thus, they can redefine the options around them. We want to do that too! To a child there’s nothing illogical about crawling up the slide the same way as they slid down. But as adults, we immediately assume that of course we have to crawl up the slide in one end and slide down the other. Why!?
Babies don’t give up just because they keep falling when learning how to walk. Failure is overcome and quickly forgotten. Only learning and experience remains, and this is a very healthy approach! The baby simply tries again until it succeeds, and we can learn a lot from that (read more about how to develop your business by “failing faster” here).
Curiosity is the way to innovation, and innovation prepares you and your company for the future!