Innovation for the rest of us

Authored by Jeremy Greene.

With the passing of Steve Jobs last month, the blogosphere has been chock-full of commentary around innovation and good product design. As a product guy, I find this fascinating. But as I’ve read through pages of articles highlighting Jobs’ search for “insanely great” product design I started to wonder if any of it is actually applicable to us? Very few of us are making iPads and insanely thin laptops that weigh as much as a paper clip. Where is my opportunity to innovate? Is there an opportunity?

Don’t fret. You can play this game, too. Innovation may be a bit more subtle when you’re working in accounting at a large government agency or as a customer support representative for a small city or county – but it’s possible. And I would argue it’s probably just as important. The word innovation, at its core, means to change. But I’m not advocating making change for the sake of change. There are plenty of ways to make impactful, positive change even when you’re not building consumer electronic goods.

Here are some areas you may want to start with:

Innovative Processes. If you’re doing something because “it’s always been done that way,” you may have found your first opportunity. Even slight modifications to existing process can produce massive improvements. People often get stuck with the concept of innovation because their ideas are too big or too complex. Don’t let scope kill the entire effort. Start with small changes, evaluate their success and repeat. For example, I was recently offered the ability to get government documents from my county electronically instead of via the mail. Small change, but impactful. I no longer need to physically keep track of these documents anymore, which is a huge win for me.

Also, you can seek input from others that live on the edges of existing processes. Sometimes being on the outside looking in can provide additional insight and really help you evaluate possible changes with a fresh set of eyes.

Innovative Customer Experiences. Are there ways you can improve your organizations interactions with your customers? This is an area commonly overlooked when it comes to innovation. Yet, improving customer support even a little bit can have crazy impactful results. Can you provide your customer with information they need before they know they even need it? Can you put processes in place that allow them to serve themselves – thus, avoiding a phone call and expediting their experience? Anytime a process I am forced to do on an ongoing basis is moved online – I cheer! Can you find new ways to effectively engage customers before there is an issue, building a relationship and the trust needed prior to when a really important issue arises?

How about Innovative Management. If you’re managing a team, you have even more possibilities to positively effect change. Are there ways to structure the work week to better accommodate your employees? Are there changes you can make to team dynamics that can improve certain processes and deliver better results? Sometimes moving responsibilities around to different individuals on your team will spark creativity and drive innovation, especially if those individuals have expressed to you that they want to take on something more or different from their normal responsibilities and tasks. The great thing about innovative management is that it’s contagious and viral, meaning your team will start to see the value and begin doing similar things themselves.

This is just a start, and a minimal one at that. Take a chance and promote positive change regardless of how big or small that change may be. Just the thought of innovation promotes discussion and that in itself can be tremendously positive.

Originally posted on Reach the Public.

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