How to Become More Innovative

Think outside the box. Be creative. We need fresh ideas.

How many times have you heard those phrases? Probably many. Whether in the business world, academic board meeting, or when meal prepping - we crave something new. We crave innovation.

The question is, how many people can deliver? How many people are innovative?

We tend to think of people like Nikola Tesla or Steve Jobs. What about you?

Having an innovative mind doesn't have to be something you are born with. You can cultivate the habit of innovative thinking. In the his book, "The Innovative Mind", Dr. Gene Landrum covers 33 precepts of training the mind to be more innovative. The 33 precepts can be broken down into 4 overarching themes.

Theme 1: Mindset Awareness:

The precepts cover the power of the mind, the power of your brain, thinking patterns, understanding your motivations, behavior conditioning, personality reprogramming, and how innovative thinking fits into each.

Theme 2: Habits

Having the knowledge from above, Landrum dives into what habits can you start cultivating to develop and expand your ability to innovate. He also discusses the roadblocks - both external and internal.

Theme 3: Risk Taking

This theme permeates most of the precepts. Being willing to take risks is at the core of innovation. You need to be willing to do something that has not been tried. You need to be willing to bear the ensuing skepticism. Many of the precepts cover why it is important to increase your risk tolerance, your zeal for exploration, and how to train yourself to do so.

Theme 4: Others

Whether it is the "experts", your family and friends who want what is best for you, the skeptical onlookers, the team that will help you realize your vision, or the customers that you need to sell to, the innovator will face resistance. How do you deal with that resistance. What should you expect? What are the stages of adoption? How do you lead? There are precepts to answer these questions.

Let's start of by addressing why more people are not innovators.

We tend to worry about what others think of us. We have been trained from an early age to not make mistakes. Go to a 1st-grade classroom and see how many hands shoot up when the teacher asks a question. Now go to a 5-th grade classroom and notice how few. We don't want to face the embarrassment of getting the answer wrong in front of others. This fear of failing in front of others inhibits us. We stop using our creative faculties, and, like any unused muscle, they atrophy.

We want to approach things from a logical and rational perspective. Being creative requires you to suspend rationality for a moment. Stop being so rational and logical. When you're brainstorming, you're supposed to throw out all the ideas, even the crazy unrealistic ones. Those ideas might spark a thought that leads to a realistic innovation. If you never allow yourself to creatively come up with "crazy" ideas, you limit your likelihood of discovering the innovative idea. Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, mentioned, "When you innovate, be prepared for everyone telling you that you're nuts".

Innovation comes at a cost. If you are too innovative in a company, you just might find yourself fired sooner than you are promoted. Part of innovation is creatively destroying what is. That is risky. For companies that focus on hitting their quarterly numbers, that is nearly anathema. Any innovator who comes and tries to do so is quickly shown the door.

Being innovative all starts with the mind. It starts with SELF LEADERSHIP. So, what are some of Dr. Landrum's precepts for cultivating an innovative mind? Here are a few, in no particular order.

Precept #1: Know Your Mental Programming

We have all been programmed. As we grew up, we noticed and mirrored the behaviors around us. We received either praise or admonition for our actions and adjusted accordingly. As we repeatedly engaged in certain behavior, it became a habit. Certain situations, tones of voice, or physical locations trigger subconscious cues on how to behave. As mentioned earlier, we have been socially conditioned to be less creative; we hold back out of fear of looking bad in front of others. We have trained our mind to NOT think creatively.

Our unconscious brains are wired first and it usually overrides our conscious actions because we usually react or act out of habit, instead of intentionally choosing how we want to act. In order to become an innovative thinker, you will need to reprogram your mind. You can do this by choosing to be more solution focused. When you're facing a task - no matter how small - ask yourself, "What are the possible solutions?" Then proceed to selecting which is the best possible solution.

Believe that you can be creative. If you hold the belief that you are not creative, your brain will find ways to prove you right. You might need to dress up in "creative" clothes (whatever that might mean to you). Perhaps you'll need to pick up a creative habit - coloring, painting, playing music - to help stimulate the creative juices. On a side note, jazz music is known for helping stimulate creativity.

Be aware that when you concentrate for more than 16 seconds on a thought, it becomes part of your subconscious mind. Spend some time listening to your thoughts. Adjust them in a more positive direction, if needed.

Precept #2: Build Up Your Risk-Taking Muscle

Being innovative requires taking risks. Prepare yourself for the future by taking small risks now. Testosterone is highly correlated to risk-taking, thrill seeking, and creativity. Highly innovative people have also been referred to as Big Ts; they tend to have higher testosterone levels. Don't worry, you are not limited by your genetics or hormone count. It is your actions that ultimately count.

Are you a risk-taker? If not, start training your risk-taking muscle. Apply for that new position. Volunteer to lead the presentation. Start a side-business. Ask him/her out. Try that new recipe. Say hi to 5 people in the grocery check-out line. Take a class. Go on that vacation. Start pushing yourself just outside of your comfort zones. Treat it like a muscle. Ease into the stretch. Don't force it, you might end up pulling the muscle instead.

Precept #3: Sync the Left/Right and Intuitive/Conscious

Our left brain tends to be more analytical. It processes information sequentially. It is also known as the inhibition center. Those who operate more out of this center are more likely to get stuck in analysis-paralysis. The right hemisphere, in contrast, processes data simultaneously. It is more intuitive and artistic. Those who operate more out of this center tend to be very creative, but don't have the ability to bring things to market.

One is not better than the other. You need both. Most people tend to have one be more dominant than the other. Identify which is your dominant side, and then start engaging in activities that require more of the other side.

Cultivate the ability to be intuitive and logical. Train yourself to see the forest, and notice the trees. Learn to see the big picture, and analyze the details.

Innovation starts with you, and it starts in your mind. It starts with you being aware of your thought habits, and then systematically changing them through new thoughts and behaviors.

I'll leave you with this quote:

"Change emanates from within and it has to start from within.

We get too smart for our own good. And it is the smarts that keeps us safe.

It also destroys any chance for an innovative life."

Be smart, but not rigid. Be creative, but not chaotic. Be willing to take risks. Be willing to go against the grain. Be an innovator!

And, if you so feel inclined, you can purchase your copy of The Innovative mind on Amazon.

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