When you think of the word ‘innovation‘ – what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?

For many, ‘innovation’ sounds impressive.

It’s what Elon Musk does.

It involves science, technology and maths and big R&D budgets and rooms with walls filled with Post-It notes and cool people that call each other ‘dude’.

Innovation is what other, smaller, more agile, more forward-looking companies do.

But big innovation, that makes for a good news story, isn’t actually the innovation that matters. What really matters are the small steps of gradual improvement that add up over time to meaningful operational growth.

One of the reasons that so many organisations fail in their innovation attempts, is because they begin them with the notion that their efforts will result in some massive, ‘change the world’ idea.

Obviously the chances of that practically happening are fairly slim.

So when ideas are executed…and sadly, inevitably fail, the path of innovation-led growth doesn’t look as rosy as it did before. And the Post-It notes and chilled cans of Red Bull are packed away.

One of the secrets then to cultivating a culture of experimentation is the embracing of a ‘small win’ or mininnovation mindset.

If you want to have a good idea – you need to have many ideas.

Mininnovation is the idea that lots of small incremental changes over time can have a massive impact further down the line. It’s not the big changes that you make once in a while, it’s the small things you do everyday that make all the difference.

Group or individual brainstorming is a great way to generate innovative ideas, but going through this process once or twice a year isn’t going to yield the mininnovation results you are hoping for.

Instead – here are a couple of steps that we’ve found to work in an effort to get an ongoing program of mininnovation going within an organisation:

  • Dedication: Coming up with those small, mini-ideas takes dedicated daily practice to get right. The same way you wouldn’t just go from ‘fat and lazy and sitting on the couch’ to ‘Ironman fit’ in just one day – you also need to train yourself to be better at coming up with great, innovative ideas with regular practice. Set aside an hour a week, or more, to get into the rhythm of creativity.
  • Quantity: Children learn how to use a computer not by pushing just one button, but by pushing all of the buttons (usually at the same time). Great ideas tend to appear in amongst other ideas. So the secret is not to get too hung up on one thing, but to get used to producing a lot of content during your brainstorms.
  • Fun: Unless you are MacGyver, there’s more chance that you are going to carry on with your ideation process if it’s an enjoyable experience, devoid of any life or death consequences. Obviously at times it may help to bring in a touch of urgency into the program, but in the practice stages – a pleasant environment is best. It’s not about saving the world, it’s about getting mentally fit for creative execution.
  • Constraints: Creativity minus limitations, more often than not, leads to chaos. Adding a few limitations (financial, time, team) to the process can be a useful framework of constraint within which to create effectively.

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  • Open: The solution to a complex problem cannot be found inside of the problem, but rather by counterintuitively looking away from the problem. So being curious about the world around you, cultivating  a sense of empathy for others and developing a wild imagination becomes key in the process of relevant mininnovation.
  • Prototype. Ideas without action are just a waste of time. Prototype and test concepts quickly so see how feasible they are. What may look average on paper, could just be a golden nugget of value when developed further.
  • Get comfortable with discomfort: If the process of innovation doesn’t make the team sweat just a bit, you’re not pushing hard enough. Go out of your comfort zone, try weird things, explore the shadows. You’re not going to learn anything by sticking to the tried and tested.
  • Reflect: Every step and stumble along the way is a golden opportunity to learn and improve. That learning happens when you reflect on the experience of innovation and consider how things may be done differently in the future.

The poster child for innovation isn’t Elon Musk standing in front of a huge audience offering a radical space-age solution to the world’s numerous problems. Rather think of a toddler learning to walk, or a young child learning to ride a bicycle. Progress is slow at first and involves bumps and bruises and lots of tears. But over time things get better and before you know it, you have Tony Hawk creating magic out of nothing.

That’s the result of small improvements over time.

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