Even recently, research has been scarce to articulate innovation skills in a business context. Thanks to new research, it’s now easier to understand how to develop innovation skills.
In my role as an Advisor to the Conference Board of Canada’s Council of Innovation and Commercialization, I had the opportunity to contribute to this research and have used it to shape our innovation training and strategy offerings. This research highlighted that one of the best ways to increase a business’s innovation performance is to lift its people’s innovation skills.
In this blog, I share highlights from this research and our experience helping leaders and their teams develop innovation skills.
What are innovation skills?
Innovation skills are the critical skills leaders, and their employees need to contribute to an organization’s innovation performance – skills required to produce new and improved strategies, capabilities, processes and services.
Innovation skills include:
- Creativity, problem-solving and continuous improvement skills, attitudes and behaviours are needed to frame and solve problems and generate ideas.
- Risk-assessment and risk-taking skills, attitudes and behaviours are needed to take calculated risks and be intrapreneurial.
- Relationship-building and communication skills, attitudes and behaviours are needed to develop and maintain the interpersonal relationships that support innovation.
- Implementation skills, attitudes and behaviours are needed to turn ideas into strategies, capabilities, products and services.
These skills are precious when navigating changing, uncertain or complex situations and are critical to an organization’s long-term sustainability. They enable our ability to respond creatively, adapt, transform and grow.
How to develop innovation skills
Here are five initial steps you can take to develop your innovation skills.
1. Take stock of your innovation skills
As part of the Conference Board of Canada’s innovation skills research, they developed a General Innovation Skills Aptitude Test (GISAT). Access the GISAT using the link below to assess the extent to which you demonstrate the desired innovation skills, the importance of an innovation skill to your job or job function, and the innovation skills gap between you and your job function.
Assess your innovation skills now.
2. Know your problem-solving preferences
Faced with a challenge, humans naturally solve problems using a universal creative process that includes four distinct stages of creative thinking. In the first step, we clarify the challenge and generate, develop and implement ideas to resolve the challenge for the remaining steps. This universal process is, in fact, an innovation process.
But here’s the exciting thing.
While we’re all hardwired to tap this universal creative process, we all have problem-solving preferences that influence our engagement in the creative process. Some of us only prefer one of these steps, and others prefer to engage in two, three, or four. If we want to develop innovation skills, we need to ensure we’re engaging in all the steps in this process, not only the ones we prefer to do.
As one of my clients said, “You can’t be innovative when you skip a step.” You need all four thinking steps to create an innovative result. A key to developing innovation skills is knowing your problem-solving preferences so that you can navigate the innovation process without getting blindsided by your preferences.
Learn about your problem-solving preferences now.
3. Use creative problem-solving as a process for innovation
At its essence, innovation is problems, challenges or opportunities that need creativity for resolution. Creativity powers our ability to overcome constraints and find the novelty and value necessary for innovation success.
One of the best ways I’ve come across to develop innovation skills is to learn how to master the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process. CPS is a proven method for approaching a problem or a challenge imaginatively and innovatively. By its very nature, the CPS process produces ideas and options that are “creative,” meaning they are novel and useful.
CPS has a long history, inspired by a business need to help people think more creatively and through academic research. Credit for the development of CPS goes to the early work of Alex Osborn in the 1940s and the research partnership he formed with Dr. Sydney Parnes in the 1950s. With more than sixty years of research, CPS is globally the most researched problem-solving model. It has proven to enhance creative thinking and behaviour in individuals who learn how to apply it.
In essence, CPS provides a framework to help people clarify and understand a challenge, generate ideas to resolve it, and then develop the ideas into workable solutions to implement. Critical and creative thinking tools and techniques integral to the process help people organize their thinking, collaborate more effectively with others, and manage the complexity and risks typically present in innovation. Built into the CPS process are opportunities to monitor an individual’s or a team’s progression, assess the kinds of thinking required, and review the results achieved.
CPS takes the guesswork out of tackling a problem because it guides you through the thinking you need to do, supported by rules for divergent and convergent thinking (yes, rules) and roles. CPS has a lot going for it. It’s flexible and explicit simultaneously; it helps you tackle various problems and situations in any area of your life—at home, at work, or school—and in any domain. Individuals or groups can use it to promote creative behaviours, enhance individual creativity, and help groups work better together. It works just as well in situations you face alone or with multiple stakeholders, where their engagement and collaboration will produce a better outcome.
Our favourite way to provide creative problem-solving training is through the FourSight Thinking System. An online assessment helps individuals understand how they naturally engage in the creative process, and online collaborative tools help teams think better together and maximize results.
4. Be mindful and deliberate
Mindfulness in innovation is about paying attention to thoughts, emotions and experiences as they unfold. Being deliberate is about making a disciplined and focused effort to achieve a goal or task while continuously learning to improve at an activity that interests you. Both are critical functioning skills for engaging in innovation.
Innovation is an emotional, creative process you engage in with others. It requires that you learn as you go. To move through the process, you need to feel your way and be aware of the context within which you’re working so you can take in feedback and cues to assess your next steps. It’s not a process you can navigate solely, relying on cognitive, logical, or analytical thinking alone. Having emotional intelligence is vital, as is drawing on intuition.
5. Do, reflect, learn, repeat
In his seminal work on learning organizations shared in the book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge found that learning organizations were innovative. The nature of innovation is that in addition to being a creative process, it is a learning process. It pushes us to new places, many of which we need to go to without prior experience. We experiment, learn as we go, and through continuous learning and improvement, truly develop our skills.
We’ve found it helpful in developing innovation skills to have the discipline to use a thinking tool called the learning cycle to regularly capture lessons learned so you can build and share knowledge amongst your team. With the learning cycle, you mindfully do an activity (do), reflect on what happened, learn from it and adapt your next attempt, taking into account what you’ve learned. You learn, grow, and improve by repeating the learning cycle as you progress. It’s a practice that allows you to gain mastery of innovation skills truly.
Innovating how to develop innovation skills
Many organizations implement innovation without a strategy for innovation and an innovation framework, making it challenging to achieve innovation success. Most teams attempt to learn innovation skills by grabbing onto an idea or methodology like design thinking, agile or lean startup, or by reading the latest innovation book found in the popular press.
In over ten years of research into how to develop innovation skills, here’s what I’ve learned.
There is a symbiotic relationship between creativity, problem solving and innovation. You can’t learn to be innovative by reading a book, watching a YouTube video or “Googling it.” And while attending a course will give you some basic knowledge, tools, and techniques—you will need to learn how to collaborate effectively with others and bridge the gap between theory and real-world practice.
Recognizing the shortfall in how many organizations implement innovation, I was inspired to innovate how to develop innovation skills and invented the ThinkUP Framework. It teaches teams how to build innovation skills and achieve outcome-driven innovation.
Using the science of creative problem-solving and team effectiveness, the ThinkUP Framework is a research-based method that supercharges your team’s ability to collaborate to tackle complex business challenges and drive better, faster results more easily. From the initial stages of clarifying and defining the problem, generating and developing ideas, to implementing the solution, our method is simple to learn, repeatable and works every time.
Training on the ThinkUP Framework includes a practical online toolkit and high-calibre coaching. As a result, your team gets the structure, skills and support they need to work effectively across functions and achieve more than you ever thought possible.
Want help developing your team’s innovation skills?
Book a discovery call. Let’s get your team to achieve more than you ever thought possible.