Be Interesting, Then Watch What Happens
How can such a simple concept help create a culture that’s primed for innovation?
By Justin Jarvinen, Head of Execution — Strategy & Innovation at Salt Flats
Humans want to share — ideas, expertise, life experience. As social creatures, sharing, learning and using our new knowledge to improve our condition is a loop that has existed since the beginning of time. Facebook and Twitter were built on this dynamic. But sharing within the context of close friends and family is completely different than, say, opening up about something personal with co-workers or people you’ve just met. It’s uncomfortable and risky.
As leaders, our job is to get the best thinking out of our people. We can all agree that our job, no matter where we exist in our company’s hierarchy, is to create value. The receptionist at the front desk provides guests with their first impression of your business. Could he or she be a valuable source of information, particularly when the discussion is ‘improving the customer experience’? Of course. No question.
But how do you get the receptionist — or anyone — to be comfortable engaging in the process of freely sharing ideas that may help improve your business? “What if they think my story is stupid?’ Does fear keep valuable ideas on the sideline?
Probably. But getting people engaged is easier said than done. Here are a couple ideas to get you pointed in the right direction.
Step One: Recognize you don’t currently have the answer.
Everyone is valuable, period. Why? Well, the reasons are many but the main reason is because you’ve recognized the answer — or the question that leads to the answer — is not right in front of you, staring you in the face. Do you know where the answer is? Of course you don’t. As our own Innovation Sherpa, Rod Collins says, “Diversity is key to discovery.” Diversity of people, ideas, backgrounds and interests lead to new ways to think about things: diversity expands the bounds of our own understanding and introduces valuable information we didn’t have before. And so, why wouldn’t you invite as many people as possible to the process of discovery?
Step Two: Look to yourself to unlock value in others.
Making people feel comfortable taking risks, exposing their own vulnerabilities, and sharing their thoughts and insights about things, generally, is a cultural trait inherent in high-performing innovation teams. As leaders, one powerful tool we have is our experience. And there’s no better way to get our teams to become more engaged in the process of discovery, than to tell stories. And so, when I’m sitting with business leaders I ask them to look into themselves and think about their own interests, experiences…. even failures. “How does that experience shape how you think about things today?”
Become a storyteller.
Yesterday we hosted an incredibly talented and whip smart inventor with a background in astrophysics. The subject matter was heady, to put it mildly, and would have melted the minds of most people who had the chance to sit with him. But his conversational style — a bunch of interesting short stories and anecdotes — helped even the least knowledgeable person in the room feel involved. He distilled complex subject matter into something considerably more relatable. He spent as much time discussing his failures as he did success, and nearly everyone eventually participated in the discussion, with vibrance.
He told stories.
And he was interesting.
Each of us has value, astrophysicist or not. When a leader creates an environment that seeks out diversity of thought and encourages inclusive and open conversation, they’re actually setting the table for discovery and value creation. Leaders that open up to their teams, tell stories, and show their own vulnerabilities are actually showing their teams that “this is a place where your viewpoint matters and is encouraged.”
Being interesting is a power that, when harnessed, yields new information you didn’t have before. When you’re interesting, people around you become curious; they want to hear more and learn more. They ask questions and begin to share their own stories. Perhaps unknowingly, you’ve brought comfort to a challenging process. We’re all human at the end of the day, and sometimes we all just need to feel comfortable.
Because, as humans, we all want to share.
Be interesting. See what happens next.
About Justin Jarvinen:
I’m Justin Jarvinen and in addition to the occasional article on subjects that interest me, I lead Execution for the Salt Flats Strategy & Innovation practice. We’re changing the way companies address strategy through a transformative process called Strategic Discovery — a proprietary continuum of services and methods that yield big thinking, cultural alignment, and real-time results.
Schedule a tour to come see our new Innovation House in Chicago’s West Loop.
This article and image was originally published on Data Driven Investor on medium