This month, XPLANE founder Dave Gray was interviewed on the Fjord Fika podcast with Andy Polaine discussing the corporate push toward innovation. How do large companies ignite internal innovation and successfully make it stick? The innovation lab trend of Silicon Valley might be a good start, but most of the time it doesn’t address the real barrier to innovation: the mindset of your people.
Here are my four takeaways from Dave and Andy’s discussion to get your team on the right path and in the mindset of corporate innovation.
The future has arrived. In the past, our big ideas were limited by what technology was capable of doing. Now instead of technology limiting everything we can imagine, our imaginations are what’s holding us back from creating new technology. Dave Gray’s book Liminal Thinking dives into how to escape that limitation. Changing the way you think and recognizing when you’re doing things out of habit are key; when you turn off the autopilot, other avenues will open for you. You don’t have to wait for a catalyst moment, you can create it just by shifting your thinking.
Listen to customers.
Transform your team from being inwardly-focused to market-focused by recognizing opportunity in your customer’s struggles and pain points. Re-humanize your dehumanizing services. Approach your customer’s problems as a solution that’s waiting to be developed. Your business is going to change with where your customers are taking you, so empathize with them, understand their struggle, and then think about how to make their experience better. At XPLANE, we function by this principle: there are no facts inside the building—the facts come from your customers.
Find your company of the future and promote it.
As Dave said, in every major industrial organization, there is a small group that knows what the company needs to be in the next century. This group has a common understanding and vision for the future, even if they are unaware of it. As a leader, it’s your job to recognize, acknowledge, and reward these traits in your employees. Your people are scared and vulnerable—take the chains off and allow them be open and exposed. Give your team a safe space to experiment, and the freedom and power to make decisions and create change. Accept when they fail. Encourage it. Learn from it.
When your employees aren’t limited by a set path or an inherited way of doing things, it allows them to think about the problem and solution in a different way, try new ideas, and test different approaches. Take down your set processes, remove assumptions, and allow your people to succeed, fail, and create new adaptations for the unpredictable. Learn from the failures, promote the successes, lead by example, and get out of the way to let your team explore.
When you find and foster the pockets within your organization where your people are listening to your customers, looking to the future, experimenting, and embracing freedom, their excitement will be infectious. It’s your job to show them the mindset you want to see, and then step back and allow them to lead the way. Their energy will build momentum to change.