Overcoming attitudes about competition and turf is a key to innovation. Here are some ways to ignite a bold future.
Today’s guest post is by Scott Cochrane, author of Your Creative Mind: How to Disrupt Your Thinking, Abandon Your Comfort Zone, and Develop Bold New Strategies (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
Last weekend I was out for a mountain ride on my adventure motorcycle. I was high up in the foothills outside of Boulder, Colorado, which is full of twisty gravel roads and dirt trails. I love to glide through the curves with some sweeping power slides and just flow. Then, in a quick glance in my handlebar mirror, I see another motorcycle coming up on me from behind…Of course I had to accelerate and up my game! How could I possibly allow somebody to catch me, let alone potentially pass me? Keep in mind, this was just a Sunday morning ride and we didn’t even know each other!
Now think about this: When you are trying to figure out how to accelerate your business for growth and profitability, it is easy to wish your competitors were not right there in your rearview mirror! Or perhaps you are in their rearview mirror. All the same, in the grand scheme of things, competition drives innovation and we need it.
One of the reasons we care about building a better mousetrap, marketing it better, or producing it more efficiently, is that we know our competitors are up at night trying to figure out the same thing. Just like in sports, strong competitors force us to improve our performance or be eliminated.
Many powerful and innovative companies take their cues from their competitors. They look at what competitors are doing and ask how they can do it better, market it better, or do it more efficiently. These kinds of innovations may not seem as glamorous as inventing something new from scratch, but they benefit the consumer and the innovator just as much.
Unfortunately, our attitude toward competition often hinders creativity. When we approach the task of innovation as if there were a finite amount of creativity in the world, we can become secretive and overly protective of our ideas. This often prevents us from getting the input and feedback we need to evaluate and improve them. In larger companies, this toxic kind of competition can exist between individuals and even departments as a whole.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology demonstrated the negative effects of a territorial corporate culture on creativity. It showed that people who communicate territorial control over their ideas receive less creative feedback from others. Another study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior finds that territorial feelings may prompt employees to hide knowledge that is critical for innovation.
Effectively leading an innovative organization requires cultivating an atmosphere where people are more concerned with productivity than egotistical gratification. It also requires systems that allow people to effectively collaborate as well as share credit for successes. Here are a few ways to build such a culture:
- Steer clear of fear. When we are in a state of fear, the brain’s entire focus is to find safety. It looks for ways to minimize risk, which works against creativity and innovation. This is why leaders who use fear tactics to motivate their employees will see dismal results if their tasks require any kind of creative thinking. It is also why fear of failure or competition (on an individual or organizational level) can cripple innovative potential.
- Lay the groundwork for innovation by seeking original ideas related to what you do. Allow employees from any department to present short pitches for new innovations on a regular basis. These may include ideas for innovative products, services, process improvements, marketing, or even business models.
- Determine the right intervals to create excitement around innovative ideas without distracting from ongoing tasks.
- Reward those who come up with the ideas that you implement, especially with recognition and giving credit where credit is due.
At the end of the day, people who effectively harness creative power do not waste much time or energy worrying about someone stealing their ideas, because they do not see creativity as a finite well that will someday run dry. They believe that there are just as many good ideas in their future as there are in their past.
As companies like Google and Apple have repeatedly demonstrated, the right kind of collaboration can spark tremendous creativity and subsequent innovation. But what does this look like for smaller organizations that don’t possess Google or Apple’s inherent attractiveness to potential collaborators? The secret often resides in openly exploring what we see around us and then asking ourselves a better question to get a better answer!
A few years ago, I was speaking to a director at a business school where I serve as a senior adviser to the Dean. She was deeply frustrated with the fundraising goal they had been given by their parent university and felt she had no support to help her with the enormous task before her. She also complained that she was so short on staff that her PhD professors were being tasked with putting together binders for the events she was coordinating.
I asked her three questions: 1) How many local businesses were “partners” with the business school? 2) How many graduate students did they have? 3) How could new technologies potentially reduce the need for binders and physical material? As she answered my questions, I saw the wheels begin to turn.
I proposed a mastermind speaker series with local business leaders as an ongoing fundraiser towards the university’s endowment. Graduate students who wanted business experience were happy to volunteer as support staff in exchange for the opportunity to help and interact with the business community speakers. She engaged the university technology department to explore different alternatives to physical binders. By simply looking around her with a different set of eyes, she began three collaborative efforts that were extremely beneficial to all parties involved.
So much innovation comes out of creative collaboration with others. Are you getting the most you can out of your professional relationships? Are you approaching these relationships in a compelling sort of way?
Allow yourself to approach your professional partnerships with the mindset of a shared bold future. Move forward with a vision of abundance, knowing that there is more than enough for all parties to prosper and thrive. Enjoy the sweeping curves of life’s adventure together!
For three decades, Scott Cochrane has been helping executives expand their businesses as a Growth Acceleration Adviser to hundreds of C-Suite leaders in 32 countries. His psychological and neuroscience-based methods have championed $54B in growth. Cochrane advises executives on how to strategically approach accelerated growth for both themselves and their companies to achieve exponential success. He documents it all in his books, keynotes, custom corporate programs, and retreats designed especially for C-Suite executives. Learn more at BoldMindX.com.
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