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Being an innovative leader



I always get appreciated for running operations well. However the one nagging thing that keeps coming up in all performance feedback is that me and my team are not innovative enough. Well I did not think it would become a show stopper for my growth one day. But it is morphing into one for me. This is coming in the way of me being considered for strategic roles. I don't seem to have a creative muscle in me. What can I do differently?
                          ~ Senior Leader, Customer Success                  

Some of us have a false notion that we can't be innovative because we are not creative.


While Creativity is about creating new ideas, imagination and possibilities, Innovation is about connecting it to the market in an effective way and at scale. Both are needed to make business sense and supplement each other.


While it is true that we all can't be equally creative, it doesn't mean we can never be creative. In the era of AI, the only human differentiator is creativity. We do not have any more a choice to be creative or not.


In their book, Tomorrowmind, Gabriella Rosen Kellerman & Martin Seligman highlight one trait to be a higher determinant of Creativity : Openness to experience.


If you are not as creative as you would like to be, you can explore how you can expand your openness to experience.


  1. Create exceptions for groundhog days

If your day-to-day work is repetitive and are a predictable series of actions, plan for an exception at least once a quarter where you don't do what you usually do.


Creativity hinges on novelty & surprise and unless you put yourself in new situations, you cannot 'create' from that energy space. If you can't afford a day, afford an hour. However get it rolling. Challenge rules, status quo.


2. Use Lateral thinking tools

There are multiple lateral thinking tools that help in triggering your imagination. Lateral thinking focuses on ignoring the obvious solution and looking for alternatives. Use any of Edward de Bono's Lateral thinking tools to get you started. Even the Green hat in Six thinking hats tool can help you and your teams to get into the habit. The book Gamestorming has about 80 games that you can enjoy and build your skills as well.


3. Build diverse teams

You are a function of the 5 people around you. If all of you think alike, there is no space for a new thought to come. Create teams that have a diverse thoughts and points of view. When you collaborate, you can create something new by connecting the thoughts, or by leaping from the collective thought or by selectively focussing on those out of the box ideas.


4. Sustain a hobby

If you don't spend any time pursuing a hobby of your choice, you are basically reducing your neural network to predicability of your current job.


At the end of the day you are going to drain energy and feel low. From this no creation can happen. Take time however little to pursue a hobby of your choice.


5. Consciously build an innovative mindset

An innovator needs curiosity, an ability to be comfortable with ambiguity, courage to take risks and synthesising ability to see beyond the boundaries of what is. They also need to be futuristic and not get stuck with the constraints of the situation. These need to be built on top of sound fundamental skills in business & technology. Building them one day at a time will take you far than looking for a magic bullet.


What can you do today to be creative?


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