Innovators like you operate in a world of ambiguity. Every situation you face has some uncertainty, and you need to be prepared when unexpected things happen. If you’re not prepared, your strategy may derail and you end up losing competitive ground in the marketplace.
Sometimes those unexpected events happen internally. The priorities in any organization are constantly shifting. You may have had everyone’s full support for your programs only to find out that something’s changed, and now some other parts of the business are getting more attention.
You may also have to face some disruptive factors like a company reorganization or cutbacks in budgets and headcount. Or get resistance from other departments.
For example, what are you going to do if your new product is behind schedule causing you to miss the launch date? What if there are delays in manufacturing or shipping your products and you can’t get enough product on the shelves? That’s a huge problem. What if there’s a quality problem, and your customers start complaining? You must react to that.
Problems can occur externally as well. Things are always changing in the marketplace. New competitors emerge. A bad customer experience may be going viral on social media sites. You wake up one morning and find that your company is on the front page of the business section. Sales of your product are off forecast.
So here are some tips to help you cope with these types of challenges:
First, encourage your team to nimble. You have to act fast when these things pop up. You don’t want to let a small problem become a big problem. Your manager will appreciate when they see that you’re on top of it. So act fast.
Next, gather information. What’s changed to cause this problem? Make sure you separate fact from fiction. You don’t want to react to bad information or just assume you know what’s going on. What may have been the truth before..may not be anymore.
Seek advice, especially from credible experts. You need to leverage the brainpower of others. That’ll help prevent you from getting tunnel vision around the problem or possible solutions.
Next, get your team into the solution mode. By that I mean stop wishing the problem will go away. Have your team develop a list of possible alternatives, then work with your team on selecting and implementing the best one. Work on the things you can change and avoid the ones you can’t.
Be flexible here. You may have to give up on certain aspects of your plan to keep things moving forward. If you dig in too hard, you could make your situation worse.
Finally, look for ways to innovate. My experience suggests that the best way to revitalize a struggling marketing campaign is to unlock new value. If the organization is stuck, use systematic creativity methods to generate new opportunities for your business.
And that’s what great innovation leaders do. They help lead the company forward especially in challenging times.
Have you ever been in a meeting when someone starts dominating the conversation and they won't stop? And they go on and on about that same old pet idea of theirs? And it's not a particularly good idea, but you've been told there's no such thing as a bad idea. So you have to sit there and not criticize. If you're like most people, these typical brainstorming sessions can be frustrating, one person talks while the rest of you listen. People start mentally checking out. They start looking at their smartphones, sending text messages. The ideas are either really weird, or really boring, and you come away from these meetings feeling unsatisfied.
A very simple technique is, instead of working as a large group, imagine breaking the group down into smaller teams, pairs, or groups of three. Why does this work? Working in pairs has many advantages. When you work with another person, you give that person your undivided attention. You feel a certain accountability to that other person to do your fair share of the thinking.
You bounce ideas off each other. You give each other suggestions. And working in pairs creates a certain camaraderie and team spirit. But there's also another advantage to working in small groups. It's much more efficient. Here's an example. Imagine you're generating ideas in a typical brainstorming session with ten people. One person talks, and nine other people listen. That's ten people working on one idea. But if you took that same group and created five groups of two people.
Now you have five times the ideas coming out in the same amount of time. That's a huge boost to your creative output.
Now, here's the way to manage it. When you start an ideation session with your colleagues, first have everybody in the room stand up, then ask them to find a partner, but ask them to find a colleague that they normally don't work with. It's critical that you try to mix things up every so often. Then have the pairs sit down, but be sure the people spread out in the room a little bit.
Otherwise, you'll notice they have a tendency to want to come back together. So what is their assignment? You remember that list of components that you generated earlier? Take one component off that list and assign each pair a component from that list. That's going to allow them to focus on just that issue. By the way, make sure you give them a time limit, say three minutes. This further constrains them inside the box, so they come up with that breakthrough idea.
Taylor Mallory Holland at Content Standard wrote this insightful article how tight deadlines can have both a positive and a negative affect on creativity.
From her article:
Dr. Richard Boyatzis, a professor of organizational behavior, psychology and cognitive science, explained his team’s findings to The Wall Street Journal:
The research shows us that the more stressful a deadline is, the less open you are to other ways of approaching the problem. The very moments when in organizations we want people to think outside the box, they can’t even see the box.
Taylor offers the following advice on how find the right balance:
Ditching deadlines isn’t the answer, nor is sacrificing quality for the sake of speed. But how do we find a happy medium?
For leaders in creative fields, the lesson here is to set flexible deadlines whenever possible—to leave some wiggle room in case good ideas take longer than planned. Consider breaking large projects into smaller tasks with their own deadlines. This not only prevents last-minute stress and overwhelm for workers; it also gives you good opportunities to check in and to offer support and feedback.
As Laura Vanderkam points out in her Fast Company article, it also helps to know your team members and set expectations for individuals. She says that while some people are good at meeting deadlines, “Others need more hand-holding and frequent check-ins. They’re not bad people, they’re just different people. Good management means getting to know the people you’re working with, and using deadlines as one tool in your kit for getting good work out of them in a timely fashion.”
While an understanding and flexible boss is certainly an asset for creative workers, individuals must also take responsibility for getting the job done—for thinking as creatively and as quickly as possible. This requires commitment and proper planning so we can give ourselves the time we need, rather than rushing at the last minute and stressing ourselves to the point of writer’s block. It also means learning how to get in the “creative thinking” zone when we need to be productive, not just when the moment strikes.
For scientifically-proven ways to be innovative and efficient, read “7 Productivity Tips to Boost Creativity on a Deadline.”