Ask the Experts: Unlocking Innovation

“Innovate or Die.” This challenge keeps many business leaders up at night. The reality of bringing big ideas to life is often more challenging than anticipated. Despite the best of intentions you may not get to the transformative, groundbreaking idea you were hoping for. Day-to-day responsibilities, the proverbial “firefighting,” not knowing where to start and unintentional barriers can derail the best of intentions. Opportunities, and ideas, can slip by, unnoticed.  

So how can innovation leaders create pathways to foster innovation? We’ve asked dozens of innovation leaders for their best practices and compiled the suggestions that we heard time and time again.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Embrace child-like curiosity. Encouraging questions such as “why,” “how” and “what if” can lead to inspiring discoveries. Asking questions liberates us from the need to have all the answers and opens the door to new perspectives, and possibilities. When we ask questions, we give people around us permission to share their unique point of view and ourselves the space to consider a different approach. 

Treat everyone like an innovator: Every team member, irrespective of their role, is a potential source of innovative ideas or solutions. Encourage them to share their thoughts and experiences. The first step necessitates you, as the leader, to invite them to speak up. Simple gestures of openness give permission to contribute and reinforces a team member’s “why.” Stop to talk with a colleague on your walk from the parking lot or in the hall. Ask the junior staffer, who is interacting with customers, vendors and partners, every day, for their challenges and ideas. Don’t reserve these conversations for only the executives and try not to overcomplicate the process.  

Engage with something unexpected: Step outside your comfort zone. Our worlds are often echo chambers of familiar ideas and preferences. By exploring new areas, whether it’s through different forms of media, engaging with art or attending events outside your field of expertise, you can find inspiration. Industry deep-dives are important, but those can lead to groupthink or only validating preconceptions. Learning from experts in a different field can spark an idea that you haven’t explored before.

Talk to strangers: Expand your circle of influence. Engaging with people outside your usual network can provide fresh insights and solutions. Actively seek diverse perspectives, which can be crucial in overcoming complex challenges. While passive information is valuable – a new podcast, book, documentary, game – there is no substitute for having a conversation. Dialogue is an art, a give-and-take that can be transformative, if you’re willing to engage and be curious.  

Create pathways for partnerships: Recognize that you don’t need to have all the answers. Instead, focus on creating opportunities for collaboration. Crowdsourcing innovation and forming partnerships can significantly reduce research, development and implementation time. The key is to be open to new ideas, and solutions, from unexpected sources. Consider how you can engage with the local community of small and startup businesses that may already have a solution, if only they knew that you had a need. Examine your processes to work with new partners, develop pilots and consider if you can remove unnecessary barriers that are preventing you from nurturing valuable opportunities.

Innovation involves nurturing a culture of continuous learning, curiosity and collaboration. By implementing these best practices, leaders can transform their organizations into hubs of innovation, where every member feels empowered to contribute and every idea is recognized as a potential catalyst for change.

We’re living in a fortunate moment of incredible opportunity. We have the foundation of a strong innovation ecosystem – well established business leaders and a burgeoning community of startups, talent both from outstanding academic institutions and an influx of people moving to our area, more resources than ever to encourage, fund and support startup companies and risk-takers. These are the fundamental ingredients for a thriving innovation community and they’re all here if you’re willing to embrace them.

Lauren Prager serves as the chief executive officer of Synapse, a nonprofit that connects, and catalyzes, Florida’s innovators across industries, technologies and communities. Synapse brings together enterprise innovation leaders, startup entrepreneurs, investors, academic leaders and resources to accelerate the growth of innovation, in Florida. Through its flagship event, Synapse Summit, mission alliances, ecosystem partners, innovation challenges, industry cohorts, strategic advisors and Impact Board, the Synapse ecosystem works, together, to fuel statewide innovation. Synapse Summit, anchoring Tampa Bay Innovation Week, returns to Tampa on February 28.  For more information, visit www.synapsefl.com.

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