As the saying goes, change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not invented overnight, either. A lot goes into the practice of innovation. To become an innovator, it’s important to learn which tools belong in your toolkit in order to build the skills necessary to create and to execute your great ideas. Here, I share my key five:
1. Listening. As a high tech founder, I am being pitched by smaller companies constantly. A lot of those who pitch me have great products and great ideas. Start-ups innovate fast! There is a lot to be learned about an industry or product just by keeping my finger on the pulse of what they’re doing. In listening to their pitches, I hear industry trends, burning questions, and which ideas are coming fastest to market. Hearing what the world needs next is a critical skill, and it comes from careful attention to both clients and to the other companies trying to meet those clients’ needs. No company operates in a vacuum, and, if a client is pitching a widget that would go well with your gadget, there is some kismet to having executed the good listening skills required to pick up on that and then to bridge the two, enabling you to connect things to everyone’s benefit.
2. Reading and Writing. I value inspiration and mentorship a great deal and turn regularly to the writing of other visionary leaders for ideas on how to improve and expand my own thinking, leadership, and creative skills. You can see how I put this in action by reading this piece, my response to Satya Nadella’s book Hit Refresh. Mindfully considering what other respected leaders of large tech companies have to say helps me to shape my own vision. Of course, I read industry publications and blogs, too, including Techcrunch, Business Insider, MIT Tech Review, Science Alert, and others. And part of the reason I write articles and blog posts myself is so that I can inspire others in turn. Writing down what works for me often gives me new ideas. In fact, if you’re ever stuck in a creative rut, try to write a description of what you’re trying to do. Typing is great, but remember that handwriting and drawing trigger a different part of your brain. Writing out and drawing out creative problems often lead you to picture new solutions.
3. Making time and space for creativity. I’ve written of how my best work days balance productivity and creativity, and key to that is protecting creative space. We all could have day after day after day of meetings and accomplish nothing but talking with each other, but that’s not a path to innovation. Innovating requires the time and space to solve problems and dream up ideas. When possible, I work through my to-do list early in the week so that I can have as few meetings on Fridays as possible. I give myself the gift of time alone on Fridays so that I can plan and think. It’s a wonderful treat to be able to do so at the end of the work week, and I find that, oftentimes, things I begin considering from that space stick with me over the weekend, puzzled out in my head during downtime. That has the added benefit of exciting me to start another week with new ideas.
4. Collaborating. Good work teams get excited about each others’ ideas and run with them together. To stay connected and on-theme, my teams use our collaboration software, RingCentral Glip, to post and exchange a weekly deck of thoughts. This includes not only what we’re working on but also what’s new and interesting, perhaps something they read in the news or a product they heard about that inspired them to think differently about something we do or make. Great ideas build on each other, and, with all of the tools available now for real-time sharing of information, there’s no reason not to keep conversation going.
5. Practice the art of self-disruption. In other words, disrupt yourself before someone disrupts you. The job of a great strategy team is to sniff out market trends early and to act on them proactively. At RingCentral, we disrupted ourselves in this way with the acquisition of Glip, embracing the idea of a team messaging concept and knowing that we could integrate it well with our existing suite of communications solutions, packaging it all into a unified experience so that people don’t have to switch apps all day. Because of our foresight and quick action, we adopted and adapted something that grew our offerings in the market and meaningfully enhanced the way we communicate and collaborate. Nobody in our industry saw this innovation and its quick integration coming, so our company was able to catch our competition off-guard and grow in a new direction. That’s what disruption is: shaking things up. When that happens internally, forcing change that leads to growth, that self-disruption undoubtedly leads to broader industry-disruption. It’s important for companies not to get complacent or to do things as they’ve always been done in order to be able to forge new frontiers and grow.
Now that I’ve shared my toolkit for successful innovation, it’s your turn to share: what’s in yours?