“What do I do?” asked a participant in a one on one conversation during a coffee break in one of my workshops. He felt he had been doing all he could on the innovation front. And yet his boss told him, “Be more innovative”. He was a bit upset. What could he do? Here are a few tips.
Listening: In my opinion, the most effective response is perhaps the most difficult one as well. i.e. to listen. Perhaps the boss has some important point to tell. At the very least, everybody carries a need to be listened to. Boss is no different. It could also be an opportunity to understand what innovativeness might mean to the boss. Sometimes the crux lies in the subtle differences in meanings. And an abstract concept like innovativeness can carry so many shades. Hence, I feel the most important thing to do is to listen and understand what boss means by “more innovative”. Perhaps ask questions so that he can elaborate it with examples.
Communication: Sometimes one is doing a number of things related to innovation – identifying new challenges, generating ideas, involving team members, building prototypes etc. However, one area which is sometimes overlooked is communication. Communicating innovation efforts may involve a short write up, a dashboard, a presentation, a demo or a combination of these. I would at least check if the innovation efforts are communicated regularly to the boss.
Challenge seeking: When boss says, “be more innovative” it could also mean following. Some of the key challenges that are important to him are perhaps not getting adequate attention. Hence, it may be a suggestion to prioritize the challenges that are given attention during the innovation efforts. Hence, it may help to probe and find out what according to him are the key challenges worth addressing. When the challenge comes from the boss, there is a higher chance of getting sponsorship for a promising idea.
In short, we looked at three things one can do when boss says, “Be more innovative” viz. listening, communication and challenge seeking. Will it always work? No. But carrying a grudge in the mind is not known to work either.