Inspiration Is Everywhere: A Look Back At 2016
There’s no doubt that 2016 has been a tough year on the entire planet. Whether it’s polarizing politics, a topsy-turvy economy or the celebrity deaths that just keep coming, the last 12 months have been so tumultuous that we can’t help worry about what’s next. But I’ve always been a glass-half-full kinda gal, and I say BRING IT ON, 2017.
I’m here to remind you that inspiration is everywhere — you just have to look. That’s what I did when I started writing these posts focused on innovation. I have found inspiration in a cup of coffee, a beloved old movie, a favorite NBA player. The list is endless because I don’t believe in limits, and neither should you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something or that things will never change. Reject the thought that you cannot make a difference, because you most certainly can. One of the scariest moves I ever made was leaving the safety and security of a corporate job to strike out on my own. But I have a deep passion for what I do and a committed belief that we can change corporate culture for the better. We can work smarter, and we can be happier doing it.
Before we march forward, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of my favorite blog posts from the past year. I hope what has inspired me has also inspired you, and I look forward to continuing this journey with you 2017. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Here’s to a healthy, prosperous and INNOVATIVE new year!
In “The Communist Manifesto,” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels called on oppressed workers everywhere to unite and rise up against the chains of capitalism. Maybe Marx and Engels were just two dudes who were fed up with their jobs. The worker revolt they predicted nearly 170 years ago is arguably happening right now. Government stats show Americans quitting at a rate of more than 2 million each month. Employees are tired of dealing with horrible bosses, a crushing workload, a lack of work-life balance, poor job satisfaction and generally feeling like a cog in the wheel. But workplaces can be innovative environments where employees can thrive. Here are five steps managers can take to stem the walkout:
- Empower employees to self-assemble and select their own teams to deliver a project.
- Reframe their work by presenting the challenge or problem you need solved, instead of the method by which to solve it.
- Learn the difference between coaching employees and dictating to them.
- Simplify the approval process.
- Eliminate meeting marathons by requiring an agenda and an outcome of the meeting.
In corporate culture, great ideas often never germinate because they lack support from above or below in the office hierarchy. Without support, ideas can’t gain traction and fall on deaf ears. That’s where Office LeBron James comes in. Your LeBron doesn’t have to be a manager or even a coworker. He or she must be someone who benefits directly from the idea, so there is buy-in. Office LeBron needs to be someone of influence, someone who is respected, well-liked but not a pushover, well-connected across departments and known for getting things done. The point is that when your Office LeBron talks on behalf of your idea, decision-makers are more likely to listen.
If your idea bombs, accept the failure. If your idea is tweaked by others, incorporate their ideas with grace and give them credit. And if your LeBron gets more credit than you do, well, sometimes that’s the price of admission with a celebrity endorsement. Winning hearts and minds means thinking bigger than yourself.
When I watch the movie “The Princess Bride” through the lens of a business consultant, I see clearly how the path to innovation is like the journey to find Buttercup. Let’s say the princess is innovation and Wesley is a guy in a corporate job, trying to get his idea through layers of managers and obstacles. Much like his movie counterpart, Corporate Wesley solves one problem only to find another. Movie Wesley starts out as a poor farm boy, finds a pirate mentor and acquires a number of advanced skills, including sword-fighting and building up a tolerance to a poisonous powder. This is where Corporate Wesley would learn everything he needs to know about his business and put together an action plan for his idea. He learns to take criticism constructively and sidestep those who want to throw him under a bus.
Movie Wesley knows he can’t conquer a kingdom alone. That’s where buddies Fessick and Inigo come in. They have a rocky start, but Wesley soon wins them over and the three are in a mutually beneficial relationship. Again, Corporate Wesley is seeking out partners who can augment his skills and coworkers and managers who will support his innovative idea.
You may think it’s silly to compare the struggles of delivering innovation to a movie plot, but I see “The Princess Bride” as allegorical. And I’m a firm believer in taking inspiration wherever you can find it. The next time you’re stuck in an innovation rut, grab some popcorn and watch this old favorite again with new eyes.
In the business world, most of us fear failure because we may not be given a second or third chance to get it right. The pace and pressures of the modern workplace mean failure can have immediate and disastrous consequences. A great idea that needs tweaking could be put on the back burner indefinitely. An employee who fails risks being marginalized, passed over or, worst case scenario, terminated. But I’m here to remind you that failure and innovation are twinsies. History is littered with examples of people and ideas that failed spectacularly before finding success: Thomas Edison, R.H. Macy, the Wright brothers. Without question, success takes perseverance. But it also takes a workplace that’s willing to make room for failure. Employers must recognize that taking risks comes with the potential of reaping great rewards — if you’re willing to analyze the heck out of your mistakes and really learn from them. Before pulling the plug on an idea that just isn’t working, ask yourself a few questions:
- Have I done all that I can?
- Have I learned from my mistakes?
- Is it time to quit?
Our overworked, over-wired, hyper-connected lives sap our physical and mental energy, leaving little room for the kind of joy that sparks creativity and innovation. We are tired. And it’s starting to wear us down. We are suffering. And our businesses are suffering as well. I can already hear you yelling at me: “But Melissa, you don’t understand the corporate environment. There is no joy. There isn’t even a lunch break.” Reminds me of a Hyundai commercial in which an office full of workers stare bug-eyed at the one guy walking out the door at 5 p.m. while the announcer says, “When did leaving work on time become an act of courage.”
There are lots of ideas out there to steal back a little of your time. Here are a few of mine:
- Say No. The key to saying no without recrimination is good prioritizing. You must figure out what’s important and what’s fluff.
- Set Boundaries. Set sensible boundaries that don’t jeopardize your career but help you find your inner “ohm.” Perhaps it’s taking a lunch break, or maybe it’s not answering email after 10 p.m. Whatever your boundaries are, stick to them.
- Get A Life! Pay attention to the things that bring you the most personal joy. Schedule a standing play date with your children, learn to paint or play an instrument, cook an elaborate meal tonight. Stop putting off what you love because of work. Make the time.
- Cut Back On Technology. Look into an app or program, or even a paid service, that can act as a virtual secretary to manage your overflowing inbox. If you’re an inbox whiz, create folders that help you organize the important stuff. Stop compulsively checking your phone during your off hours.
- Go To Bed. A lack of sleep isn’t just bad for you. It’s also terrible for your company, which really needs your sharp wit, brilliant ideas and problem-solving skills.
For employers looking to inject some innovation into their workplace, there’s a lot to take away from the venti-sized success of Starbucks.
- Self-evaluate. Large organizations are especially guilty of “legacy inertia” because they often have invested too much time and money in the systems that are in place, and managers are reluctant to risk the status quo. But they should sit down and do the math — literally. Numbers don’t lie, and if yours have not changed for the better, then it’s time to strategize.
- Go Left. Take a calculated and well-researched risk, try something new and measure the outcome. An innovative business strategy can make you stand out from the pack and stick out in consumers’ minds.
- Start Small. If big changes are too risky, too expensive or just plain impossible, start small. Try a low-impact project and see what happens. If it works, then find ways to expand it. If it’s a colossal failure, abandon it and try something else.
- Celebrate Success. Celebrating success reinvigorates workers and promotes a positive vibe in the office — and that can stoke innovate ideas from employees. We’re not talking about an Employee of the Year award or things that tend to single out individuals, but something that allows everyone to feel vested in the team
- Don’t Stop. Innovation doesn’t end with one successful change. The biggest innovators know that success means always pushing forward, constantly revising and learning from mistakes that will inevitably be made along the way.
Latest posts by K. Melissa Kennedy (see all)
- Speak Up or Quiet Down – Your Innovation Challenge – Best of The Weekly Zing - December 28, 2018
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- Trash It – Your Innovation Challenge – Best of The Weekly Zing - November 28, 2018