By Janice Francisco, CEO, Principal Innovation Consultant, Facilitator and Coach, BridgePoint Effect
Up until recently, research to articulate innovation skills in a business context was scarce. Thanks to new research, recently released by the Conference Board of Canada's Centre for Business Innovation it's easier to understand how to develop innovation skills.
In my role as an Advisor to the Conference Board of Canada's Council of Innovation and Commercialization I had the opportunity to contribute to this research and have used it to shape our innovation training and strategy offerings.
In this blog I share highlights from this research and our experience in helping leaders and their teams develop innovation skills.
What are innovation skills?
Innovation skills are the critical skills leaders and their employees need to contribute to an organization’s innovation performance – skills needed to produce new and improved strategies, capabilities, processes and services.
Innovation skills include:
- Creativity, problem-solving and continuous improvement skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to frame and solve problems, and generate ideas
- Risk-assessment and risk-taking skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to take calculated risks and be intrapreneurial
- Relationship-building and communication skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to develop and maintain the interpersonal relationships that support innovation
- Implementation skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to turn ideas into strategies, capabilities, products and services.
These skills are highly valuable when navigating changing, uncertain or complex situations, and they're critical to an organization's long term sustainability. They enable our ability to respond creatively, adapt, transform and grow. In fact, this research highlighted that one of the best ways to increase a business' innovation performance is to lift the innovation skills its people.
How to develop innovation skills
Here are five initial steps you can take to develop your innovation skills.
1. Take stock of your current skill level
As part of their research, the Conference Board of Canada developed the General Innovation Skills Aptitude Test. to test yourself and self-score your results. Find out how you rate in key innovation skills areas and what you can do to develop your skills more deeply.
2. Flex your thinking preferences
Faced with a challenge, it's in our nature as humans to engage in a universal creative process that moves through four stages of creative thinking. In the first step, we clarify the challenge. In the following steps, we generate, develop and implement ideas to resolve the challenge. This universal process is, in fact, an innovation process.
But here's the exciting thing. While we're all hardwired to kick into this universal creative process, we all have preferences for engaging in it. Some of us only prefer one of these steps, and others prefer to engage in two, three, or four. And this has a significant impact on innovation results. If we want to develop innovation skills, we need to make sure we're engaging in all the steps in this process, not only the steps we prefer to do.
As one of my clients put it - "you can't be innovative when you skip a step." You need all four thinking steps to create an innovative result. The key to developing innovation skills is learning how to flex your thinking preferences and engage in all steps of the creative process.
3. Use creative problem solving as a process for innovation
At its essence, innovation is problems, challenges or opportunities that need creativity for resolution. It's creativity that powers our ability to overcome constraints and find the novelty and value necessary for innovation success.
One of the best ways I've come across to develop innovation skills is to learn how to master the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process. CPS is a proven method for approaching a problem or challenge imaginatively and innovatively. By its very nature, the CPS process produces ideas and options that are "creative," meaning they are novel and useful.
CPS has a long history, inspired by a business need to help people think more creatively and developed through academic research. Credit for the development of CPS goes to the early work of Alex Osborn in the 1940s and the research partnership he formed with Dr. Sydney Parnes in the 1950s. With more than sixty years of research behind it, CPS is the most researched problem-solving model globally and is proven to enhance creative thinking and behaviour in individuals who learn how to apply it.
In essence, CPS provides a framework to help people clarify and understand a challenge, generate ideas to resolve it, and then develop the ideas into workable solutions to implement. Critical and creative thinking tools and techniques integral to the process help people organize their thinking, collaborate more effectively with others, and manage the complexity and risks so typically present in innovation. Built into the CPS process are opportunities to monitor an individual's or a team's progression, assess the kinds of thinking required, and review the results achieved.
CPS takes the guesswork out of tackling a problem because it guides you through the thinking you need to do, supported by rules for divergent and convergent thinking (yes, rules) and roles. CPS has a lot going for it. It's flexible and explicit simultaneously; and helps you tackle any variety of problems and situations in any area of your life – at home, at work, or school – and in any domain. Individuals or groups can use it to promote creative behaviours, enhance individual creativity, and help groups work better together. It works just as well in situations that you face alone or with multiple stakeholders, where their engagement and collaboration will produce a better outcome.
Our favourite way to provide creative problem-solving training is through the FourSight Thinking System. An online assessment helps individuals understand how they naturally engage in the creative process, and online collaborative tools help teams think better together and maximize results.
4. Be mindful
Mindfulness in innovation is about paying attention to thoughts, emotions and experiences as they unfold. It's a critical functioning skill for engaging in innovation. Here's why. Innovation is an emotional, creative process you engage in with others. To move through the process, you need to feel your way and be aware of the context within which you're working so you can take in feedback and cues to assess your next steps. It's not a process that you can navigate solely relying on cognitive, logical, or analytical thinking. Having emotional intelligence is vital, as is being able to draw on intuition.
5. Do, reflect, learn, repeat
In his seminal work on learning organizations shared in the book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge found that learning organizations were innovative organizations. The nature of innovation is that it is a learning process. It pushes us to new places, many of which we need to go to without prior experience. We experiment, learn as we go, and through continuous learning and improvement, truly develop skills.
One thing we've found helpful is applying a learning cycle as a component of any innovation effort. With a learning cycle, you mindfully engage in an activity, reflect on what happened, learn from it and adapt your next attempt, taking into account what you've learned. It's a practice that allows you to gain mastery and develop innovation skills truly.
Innovating how to develop innovation skills
When I was finishing my master's degree, I observed something unusual about how most organizations learned to be innovative. Many grab onto an idea or methodology like design thinking, agile or lean startup, or read the latest book in the popular press on innovation. Often in the process, the symbiotic relationship between creativity, creative process and innovation escape significance. We've found that most organizations implement innovation without a strategy and an innovation framework, making it challenging to achieve innovation success.
In over ten years of research into how to develop innovation skills, here's what I've learned.
You can't learn to be innovative by reading a book. You can't learn by "Googling it" or watching a YouTube video either. While attending a course will give you some basic knowledge and some tools, to truly develop innovation skills takes mindful practise with a team of people and application to real-world situations.
In response to what I observed, I decided to innovate how to develop innovation skills and invented the ThinkUP Innovation Framework. Using an action learning approach, it teaches teams how to develop innovation skills and achieve outcome-driven innovation. Visit our website to learn more about the ThinkUP Innovation Framework and our core innovation training curriculum.
About BridgePoint Effect
BridgePoint Effect is a boutique consulting firm with a bold vision to transform the way leaders and their teams collaborate, innovate, and deliver outstanding results.
We help frustrated leaders who know their teams can achieve more.
We offer a framework, practical toolkit and high calibre coaching that gives you the structure, skills and support needed to build an effective team.
Let's get your team achieving more than you ever thought possible.