Leading Government Innovation – Get off the Bench!

This article is the second part in a two-part series, “Leading Government Innovation.” Read the first part here

“We are stronger than we know.  Like deep wells, we have a capacity for sustained creative action.”

Finding Water, The Art of Perseverance

–  Julia Cameron

Part 1* of this two-part GovLoop series ended with the famous question attributed to Steve Jobs, “How will you put your dent in the universe?”  In Part 2, we look at some proven tips and techniques to help you get you started.

1. Develop a thick skin. Critics are everywhere. After all, it’s easier to critique than to create.  Don’t listen to the “dream stealers.” On the other hand, don’t be insensitive or oblivious to honest, helpful criticism. Be thankful. Learn from failure. That’s how we improve. As Melinda Gates says, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” Thomas Edison put it this way; “I failed my way to success.”

2. Don’t wait, write. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for “Corporate” or the Innovation Ivory Tower, the Agency Innovation Czar or some other authority to give you permission. Give yourself permission and get to work.  Start a “My Ideas” list. Write down every idea you have. Don’t judge the idea. Just write it down. If it’s a good idea, you’ll come back to it time and time again. It’s probably a “keeper” so begin to flesh it out. But don’t fixate on it. Keep working on all your ideas. You’ll soon have dozens, scores, hundreds…. And, you thought you weren’t creative!

3. Read, read, read. Leaders are readers. If I could recommend only one book to you right now, that book would be Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators.” One nice benefit you’ll get from reading about Innovation and Innovators is how much you – yes, you! – have in common with those who have gone before you. Many of them are in government!

 Still Stuck?  Turn Constraints into Motivators!

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

– Henry Ford

It takes courage to create and innovate. You must develop a willingness to challenge the status quo. Innovators are, by definition, leaders. Where to start? If it is to be, it’s up to thee. Start with yourself. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I can’t draw!” Well, even Leonardo Da Vinci took classes and trained as an apprentice for many years. Don’t be reluctant to buy a book or take a class in a subject afield from your norm. Here are a few simple suggestions to help get you “off the bench” and in the game.

1. Do an attitude check. Cynical or a believer? It’s “not my thing” or “I’m going to make it mine?” Anticipate negativity and be prepared to overcome it. Critics are everywhere. After all, it’s easier to critique than to create. But don’t be insensitive or oblivious to honest, helpful criticism. Be grateful and thankful. That’s how we improve.

2. Give yourself permission. Empower yourself. Let yourself dream a little. Use your imagination. I did and found it to be, in a word, fun! And exciting. And a little scary! It’s like “OMG, am I really going to do this? Am I going to tell someone, anyone…that I’m going to try to get a patent, suggest a better process, develop an app or write a book, start a blog? Or develop and teach a course on innovation (Hey! innovation CAN’T be taught, some would say). But innovation must be learned. This is scary stuff! Do it anyway. You’ll be smiling soon.

3. Take action. Move from dreamer to doer. Capture your best idea and act on it. Ideas are useless without action. Vision without execution is hallucination. Let the innovator within, out. You can start small. You don’t have to tell anyone about it.  In fact, don’t. At least don’t tell anyone until you’re ready to own it. But, next time you have an idea, write it down. Most ideas – even good ones – are ephemeral. Fleeting. Sure, you think you’ll remember. But you must do everything possible to improve your odds. Write it down and then share it with a few others. This is how you practice creativity. If you share your idea, don’t take negative feedback personally or even too seriously. Do not be daunted. Accept positive feedback graciously but suspiciously.

The Value of a New Idea

What’s the value of a new idea? Well, it’s zero. It’s zero until you act upon it. Good ideas put into action can be priceless. Be fearless. Start today. You don’t have to tell anyone. Just do it for yourself. You’ll get a kick out of it. It’ll make you smile. I know I did. Sometimes, when I’m thinking of a new book idea or a new way to approach an old problem, I think to myself; “Wow, I’m really doing this! And no one can stop me!”

Conclusion – Don’t Hesitate to Innovate!

Remember Virtue #1 – Be Courageous. It takes a bit of courage to create. But once you start, you’ll never stop and your life will be enriched. Furthermore, your opportunity to enrich the lives of those around you will be tremendously enhanced. That’s the greatest reward. “Change your mindset, change the game” as Dr. Alia Crum from Harvard writes. And don’t be afraid to dream. Then act! Remember that success is the progressive realization of a worthy idea. Put your creative genius to work today!

Cherish your dreams, as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.”

–  Napoleon Hill

Turn your dreams into reality. You don’t need a EUREKA moment. Start creating the blueprint that Napoleon Hill talked about. Innovation is never a single event. It’s a process. Take the first step. Start by combining some new ideas with old ideas. When fundamental concepts combine with new ideas, important problems can be solved and new opportunities can be visualized and realized. Do your part. Share your ideas. You can improve the world. You’ll be glad you did!

 Rick Pfautz is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Nya Jackson

Thanks for sharing Rick. I think being courageous and having a thick skin are key. There has been so many times I’ve been in meetings and was too scared to share my idea because I thought it was dumb or silly, and then someone else says it and I’m kicking myself for not sharing it first. It’s scary at first but the more ideas you throw out there the more comfortable you get doing it.

Rick Pfautz

Thank you for your comments and insights. When I saw your name, Nya, and then read your posting, I immediately thought of Nir Eyal. I have no affiliation with him but have enjoyed his books and blogs on the topic of organizational and behavioral change. Check out: https://www.nirandfar.com/. And, I couldn’t agree more with you about your statement, “It’s scary at first but the more ideas you throw out there the more comfortable you get.” It’s a great feeling knowing that you’ve helped improve an organization or inspired a friend or a colleague because you had the guts and compassion to stand up, speak up and share your idea!