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How to be innovative

Innovation is what makes companies grow and become stronger. However, we tend to forget that innovation is not an exclusive tool to be used specifically by the technology or science world. That spreadsheet you put together last week might just be the kind of revolutionary thinking that helps your company be more productive. Call me lazy but if there is a way to do something faster and more accurately, trust me I will find it.

A lot of the time we are so used to doing things the “old way” we stop looking for ways to improve processes that are in place. Yes some people think “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but if that were the case, we would still be using the Model T Ford.Innovation is the key to moving forward.

Here are a couple of things that help me when I’m trying to think of ways to improve my work.

Seeing the “Big Picture”:

Start by taking a step back and understand where your task fits in the “Big Picture.” Why is it that this task has to be done? What is the purpose? Understanding the importance of your work can help you see if there is a better way to achieve that goal.

Don’t just think because it is working now (and has been since the beginning of time) that there isn’t a better way to do it. Take a step back and you’ll be surprised at what you see.

Creative thinking:

In order to create a new process you need to stop thinking of the old one! Get creative.

If you haven’t been exercising your creativity, I encourage you to take a minute everyday to imagine things. It’s not important that you can’t actually afford to buy a monkey that will entertain you by juggling so that you will be in a good mood whenever your boss gives you 20 things that are all due in 10 minutes. What’s important is that you become comfortable with your own creative thoughts. Once you start being imaginative and creative you will be able to think outside the box. And that is where new ideas live!

Go ahead, dream a little.

Make a list:

Now that you’re being creative, I encourage you to keep a tablet close by. Any time a new idea hits you, write it down! (Just don’t forget where you put your list.)

Backwards Planning*:

You know that vicious cycle that starts when a kid ask “why?” and then you give them an answer and they ask you “why?” and you now have to answer that and so forth? This exercise is sort of like that.
You start with the end goal in mind and ask yourself what do you have to have in place to accomplish it? OK, now what do you have to do to accomplish that? And so on and so forth, until you arrive at something you already have in place and/or can put in place immediately. That’s your next action.

Use your resources:

Whether it is a co-worker who is more familiar with a process, an old college friend who is a programmer, or a simple excel spreadsheet, use your resources! Don’t spend valuable time doing something when you have a method, program or person who can help you speed up the process.

Beware of holes: Beta testing.

Say you already have an innovative idea. It works. It’s fast. Everybody likes it.

Before you rush off with your shiny new idea make sure to troubleshoot it. Think of some “what if” scenarios. Compare this new process to the old process. As you are improving things, are you still covering your bases? Do you need to establish checks and balances? Run it by whoever is involved or affected by this work and see if they have any input.

There’s a reason software companies do beta testing.

One last thing: Always be prepared for Murphy.

In an ideal world, things would work in specific way for you. People would be on time. Computers wouldn’t crash. You could be Batman and save the world from evil. (I’m exercising #2 here.)

However in the real world we have a thing called Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Now don’t get all discouraged and send me angry emails because I’ve made you do all this thinking and analyzing and now it’s all just going to spontaneously combust. I’m simply saying be prepared.

Be ready to go back to the drawing board if it doesn’t work. Don’t fall so in love with your new idea that you can’t modify it or listen to other ideas. Innovation is about coming up with the next big thing.

So keep thinking, keep imagining, and keep being creative!

Nancy Trevino,Closing Department, Program Assistant

*excerpts for this section are taken from:50 Tricks to Get Things Done Faster, Better, and More Easily by Dustin M. Wax

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