What springs to mind when you think about ‘innovation’? Do you imagine mind-blowing technical disruption, or headline-grabbing initiatives that no-one needs, or super-simple improvements that smooth your daily life – things that you could have designed if you’d had more time or money? I believe that everyone can be more innovative whatever their job, skills or budget. When I worked in publishing innovation, I loved sharing practical approaches for people to try, and when writing my first book I experimented with different tactics. Here are some easy-to-implement innovation principles to get you started.
What’s the problem?
Ideas don’t happen in a vacuum. While some people might be blessed with a visit from the muse, most of us need a trigger. A tried and tested approach for stimulating creative thinking is to find problems.
Publishing is chock-full of problems – from systemic issues like a lack of diversity, to ‘showrooming’ where people browse in bookshops then buy online, or the perennial problem of discoverability and getting the word out about your title when there are so many others elbowing for attention.
Don’t sit around and moan: do something, and start by identifying problems. Observe, ask people what bugs them, make a list. Even better, get social and form a club to turn your complaints into triggers and work together to find solutions.
Come up with ideas – lots of them
Once you have a problem you can generate solutions. Come up with as many ideas as possible that could address the issue at hand. Go wild and use your imagination – the point at this stage is to be creative and not settle on the first idea. If you’re working alone, write a list or create a mind map, and in a group setting like a meeting or workshop you can break out the post-it notes and run a brainstorm.
When I started writing my book I ran a survey to find out what stopped people making their ideas happen. The results gave me a problem to solve – my job was to write a book that solved that problem.
I’m busy, you’re busy, we’re all too busy. FOMO is our default response to the overwhelm of opportunities. That’s why the most important productivity advice you’ll receive is to prioritise. While you might be bursting with amazing innovations, you must focus on one to start with.
It’s hard choosing, so come up with a list of criteria and use that to guide you. In a business setting it might be hitting a sales target, alignment with a publishing list, or what skills and experience the team has. If it’s a side project, you have more freedom. I like to get a tingle of excitement: is this something I want to work on, do I care about it, will it hit my personal goals for the year, does it scare me and push me to do more? Evaluate your ideas against the criteria and pick the top one to work on. You’ll know when you hit a ‘Hell, Yes!’
Treat everything as an experiment
Start with the smallest version of your idea by creating a prototype. It could be a verbal pitch to your boss to get permission to work on a project, an online advertising campaign to prove people are interested, or a book proposal, sample chapter or a mocked-up book cover.
The point is to make something quickly and get it in front of people to gather feedback so you can iterate and improve. Think of each version as an experiment to gather data to inform what you’re doing next.
Work with others
After a career working in publishing, I was used to teamworking, but becoming an author made me value collaboration even more. As a writer, I might have been the originator of the idea, but other people helped me level up. The book was a joint project created using innovation principles.
At each stage of the process, starting with my agent, we tested ideas and used feedback to improve it. I had a team of beta readers whose expertise and insight kept me on track. My publishers Icon Books worked in an iterative approach on everything from the title, which was chosen using Google AdWords, to picking the best cover (designed by James Jones). Their team of in-house experts added value in editorial, sales and marketing.
Researchers have found that 70% of our personal happiness comes from other people, so get social as you innovate. Relationships will help you and your ideas thrive.
What’s stopping you?
Being innovative builds new skills and experiences that will help you improve the world around you. If you want to give it a go, my advice is to start small, make some time for creativity, and test your ideas. As you build confidence, you can think bigger and take bolder steps – create those moonshots so beloved of startups. And who knows, the world might be ready for my kitten-assisted book-delivery drone service.
Bec Evans is a writer, speaker and startup founder. While working in publishing she turned her side hustle Prolifiko – a writing productivity coach – into a start-up. As a consultant she helps businesses innovate and coaches people to build the skills and confidence to make their ideas happen. Her first book, How to Have a Happy Hustle: The Complete Guide to Making Your Ideas Happen will be published by Icon Books in May 2019.