Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

If corporates can build innovation habits amongst their people, continuous improvement and innovation become much more accessible. For this, companies need to create an innovative mindset, which makes innovative thinking a habit. If you would like to cultivate a more innovative climate and build a creative mindset, thinking in terms of innovation needs to be the standard, not the exception.

The biggest success stories are always the ones built around innovative products, creating a disruption no one has achieved before. Great innovators, like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, that are disrupting whole industries with their ideas. But innovation isn’t about the most outstanding entrepreneurs; it’s about organizations with everyday innovators. Data shows that more than 70% of the most transformational innovations in the world are being imagined and developed by in-house entrepreneurs. Supporting innovative habits and creating an entrepreneurial culture is thus crucial for every business’s innovation success in today’s environment.

Understanding an innovator’s habits, and practicing them, can help develop your innovative and creative potential. Sharpening your skills in innovation and creativity will allow you to thrive and survive in this rapidly changing, ever-changing competitive world. Whether inventing a new product or finding a solution for an issue, innovation requires creativity, as you need to be able to relate abstract ideas and facts with existing scenarios before you can create something unique and different. Innovators don’t just come up with things out of nowhere. But also, as an innovation manager or team leader who wants to create an innovative team within a conventional business, it is essential to understand how business habits drive business value.

So, what gives these hyper-creative individuals an edge? They learned how to develop specific habits that sustain and enhance their creativity. 

Below are four habit areas that I think will help for driving innovation. Then, I’ll share some tips on how you can embed this into your company.


Four habits of pushing your creativity

For better or worse, our habits form us. Good or bad food habits, exercise habits, work habits, email habits, etc. These all have profound effects on our productivity, health, and happiness.

I am not a habit-type person, but I will admit that habit-thinking has tremendously impacted me. I learned that you don’t need to be perfect at your habits. Starting to do them is a goal all on its own. Why do you not choose just one of the below four things and start doing it today?


Habit 1: Be curious

Intellectual curiosity has proven a critical characteristic for successful innovators. Find inspiration every day from blogs, Twitter streams, going to events, LinkedIn groups, and completely new experiences. Make it a habit of doing something new daily (different work routes, talking to strangers,…). This will provide a greater chance for you to learn something new. Also, scientific studies have shown that diversified experiences significantly influence creativity. I favor a blend of selected sources of information and genuinely serendipitous sources that might blow your mind.

Sometimes, lightning strikes, and we get an entirely formed, genius idea, but it is not something you can genuinely rely on. Creatives know that you cannot keep up the front edge waiting for inspiration to strike. Creativity requires fuel, which includes getting your mind in shape through reading and learning new things, and being open to new experiences.

Innovative people flourish because of the journey. They enjoy learning about a foreign culture, visiting art museums, taking walks outdoors, learning to play an instrument, or whatever else expands their minds. Get out of the office building, and test critical assumptions of your idea with people outside. Get yourself out of your comfort zone and get feedback from strangers who aren’t limiting themselves to give honest feedback.


Habit 2: Question everything

When knowledge and experiences are combined, the mind is strengthened in its capacity for flexibility and understanding of complex ideas. Highly innovative people are naturally curious and inclined to question many assumptions others take for granted. The more you ask, the more your imagination is energized to think about other possibilities.

That is why creatives are constantly probing and testing things, including their products and the quality of their services. They are not afraid to ask why or what is the reason not. They are curious about their customers’ needs, wants, and motivations. They continually challenge themselves to look at things differently, including challenging the status quo, thus opening themselves up to new possibilities.

They are the ones who mess around, taking things apart. Innovators are driven to understand how things work better. They are tinkerers and do-it-yourselfers, people who take things apart to see if they can reassemble them, likely with their modifications. And this deconstruction-reconstruction process is not necessarily just with material things. Think about the jazz musician taking a song apart and then piecing it together with improvisation, creating something new and unique every time.

Highly innovative people are naturally curious and tend to question many assumptions everyone else accepts. Genuinely creative people have the confidence and courage to move forward and continue to challenge themselves and the world around them. Ultimately, people with a growth mindset embody the beliefs and behaviors that make innovation possible. 


Habit 3: Keep a notebook

Write down every single idea that crosses your mind. The most successful, creative people are usually compulsive note-takers. They have a habit of writing things down, whether they are a flash of brilliance that comes to them during an inspired moment or a fantastic concept that they have read.

As good as your memory may be, when you come up with an idea, it is always best to get it down in written form so that you can come back and assess it later. Creative types are also generally doodlers and list makers. They make notes of tasks, places they would like to visit, and books they would like to read so they can reference them later.

And do that low-tech, with pen and paper. Various research shows that it makes you memorize and retrieve your thoughts and ideas better. And that supports habit 4.


Habit 4: Take time to connect the dots.

Associative thinking, or being able to recognize and connect patterns, is critical for innovation. Get good at making associations, and make notes or sketch a single pattern daily! Try discovering a pattern from real-life situations every day.

Highly innovative people realize they must allow the creative process to take its course. They acknowledge that ideas need to pass through a gestation period. Ideas frequently bubble up in the subconscious mind, requiring a little “cooking” before fully taking shape.

You need to allow space and time for your creativity to flourish. This phase is critical in the creative process, allowing ideas and concepts to mature. I prefer walks in nature (with my dog). I also get back home with new ideas or insights, and it’s proven that outdoor walking puts your mind in a progressive thinking state!



The habit formation process

Forming habits is no small thing. Just think of trying to exercise or eating healthier. You need to keep at it for just long enough to make the new behaviors into habits. Make sure that you cannot break your first habit. When starting with some of my habits, I also tend to start with highly ambitious goals.

Do not start by setting the goal to create ten creative ideas a day (or something like that: running for 60 minutes per day), but instead, start by creating one picture per day (or something like that: exercising for only 5 minutes a day). Frequency is far more important than size. Please do it for as long as you need for it to become a habit. Then build upon that and extend the habits. You can do this as an individual, but I’d advise corporates to support this process for their people. 

How can corporates enable their people to form innovation habits?

Also, your employees won’t change overnight by just telling them and probably revert to business as usual if this isn’t continuously brought to attention. We must be vigilant about the bad habits that prevent us from innovating and replacing them with new habits. The key is to “normalize” innovation and make innovative thinking a habit. 

In the book ‘Atomic Habits,’ author James Clear describes the Four Laws of Behavioral Change:

  1. 1. Cue: Make it obvious
  1. 2. Craving: Make it attractive
  2. 3. Response: Make it easy
  3. 4. Reward: Make it satisfying

For corporate leaders and team managers, this could look like this:

  1. Tell your people that you want them to be creative and innovative and what behavior you expect from them. Also, explain what that next big idea would look like. Request their ideas during team meetings, ask them for other ways of doing things, and run group creativity sessions to connect the dots.
  3. Explain that speaking up or failing won’t be penalized and that personal growth opportunities exist. For employees and teams to take the risk that innovation requires, they need to feel comfortable talking, asking questions and making mistakes. People need a protected space if you want them to change. Carve out some time your employees can use to find inspiration or experience new things.
  5. Enable your people by providing them with time, teaching them methods, and creating places (like brainstorming areas, innovation labs, or idea generation platforms) to make engaging with your innovation efforts as simple as possible. Provide your people with notebooks for their inspiration and ideas.
  7. Recognize those that showcase the proper behavior – if their idea didn’t make it to implementation. Don’t just focus on outcomes because it is the behavior that you want to turn into a habit. This will not only trigger them to stick to the new behavior but also inspire others!