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Innovation has long been saluted as the golden ticket of long lasting success in business.  Many other factors attribute to starting and maintaining a successful business, but if you want to stay in the game for the long haul it’s highly likely that you are going to need to be able to innovate.  But, how?  How can you innovate and do it successfully?  Everyone has a different idea to the key factors involved in being able to innovate, from personal practices to company policy, there are countless suggestions floating around the entangled labyrinth of integrated consciousness know as the World Wide Web, but which is correct?  To find what works for you I believe each individual or group needs to take an agile approach; your requirements and solutions should evolve through an approach that encourages rapid and flexible response to change.  Try different approaches in smaller, experimental scales, adapt what works and change what doesn’t.  With that said here were some suggestions I found and liked:
Hire People Who Annoy You

I may not entirely agree with this suggestion, but it definitely grabs your attention.  We’ve all worked with people who annoy us, therefore we all know how painfully corrosive an annoying coworker can make your work environment, so the idea of intentionally submitting yourself to such a situation sounds completely ludicrous and out of the question.  However, if we delve a little more deeply into the point ZestFinance CEO Douglas Merrill was trying to make in a recent online post we see that the real point is about diversity.  While Merrill maintains that the key to innovation-rousing diversity is hiring skilled employees that you find highly irritating, it goes without saying that the potentially disruptive and volatile work environment that would be created by hiring a bunch of people that get on each other’s nerves would far over shadow any potential innovation you may hope to derive from such a “diverse” team.  This requirement of hiring annoying people distracts from the important and very valid point Merrill was trying to make, which is to gather people who have different ideas, thoughts and habits from your own.  Though it is not prescribed as a tool for determining an employee’s potential for success, I do think when it comes to creating a diversified team with the purpose of cultivating innovation that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions) can be an incredibly advantageous tool.  Once you’ve filled your team with a variety of unlike minded people, innovation is a lot easier to happen upon.

Innovate Like a Startup
This is a interview of Eric Ries author of the book “Lean Startup”, which has several great points, but just three of which I’ve highlighted below.  I definitely recommend giving it a read:
“There is no such thing as a technique or a tactic that works all of the time, that works for everybody.  This gets back to my point of discovering innovation techniques using an agile process, because Ries is right, generating innovation is not a one size fits all practice.
It is not the job of the innovators to create those platforms. That’s the job of senior management.”  This is Ries explaining the role of senior management in creating the proper platforms to culture innovation in large, established companies.
“…the way to get everything right is not to be a perfectionist and make a detailed plan. That actually is too complicated, too difficult.  Instead, what we want to do is run experiments quickly and cheaply so that we can get the failures out of the way and discover how to actually find the right combination of product features, pricing, and marketing that will actually help us reach customers.”   It’s one thing to be innovative, and another to be sure that the innovation you are trying to introduce is even a good one.  Just because you came up with something new doesn’t mean anybody is going to want it or that it is at all practical.
How to Innovate!
This article from a website called “Innovation in Practice” describes a method for innovation, a framework which will help guide a creative mind(s) to discover changes and try and identify if these changes are practical or marketable.  I’ve included this method below, but please see the article for examples and more detail.
  1. Select a product or service to innovate.
  2. Create a list of its components.
  3. Apply a TEMPLATE to each component (see the TEMPLATES below).  This creates a VIRTUAL PRODUCT
  4. Take the VIRTUAL PRODUCT and think of all the ways it could be useful.  What problems does it solve?  What benefits does it offer?  Who would use it?
  5. Repeat the process using a different component.
  6. Repeat the entire process using a different TEMPLATE.
TEMPLATES:
  • SUBTRACTION:  removing an essential component and keeping only what is left
  • MULTIPLICATION:  making a copy of a component but changing it in some way
  • DIVISION:  dividing a component out of the product and putting it back somewhere else, OR taking the component and physically dividing it
  • TASK UNIFICATION:  assigning an additional task to an existing component – giving it a new job in addition to its existing job 
Qualities of an Innovator
Here is a set of qualities or “skills” that are helpful to being an innovator.  The content is from this article on The Wall Street Journal.
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I’d love to hear what you think helps in the process of innovation or in being an innovator.  Leave me a comment if you have any thoughts.