How to be a Better Innovator

by Michael Haberman on October 1, 2012 · 2 comments


Someone wrote me the other day asking my opinion on HR and innovation. She said she did not see that HR had much room to innovate in today’s business world. I responded to her and I told her I thought there was room to be more innovative in HR. So here are some tips on being a better innovator.

My response

I think HR leaders have plenty of room to be innovative. However there are several things that must be in place for them to be able to exercise their creativity.

  • They must be perceived by their CEO as being a leader and an expert. If they do not have that “voice of authority” then why should anyone listen to them? That means they have to be making sure HR operates efficiently and effectively. If they are not doing the basic “blocking and tackling”, to use football parlance, then no one is going to listen to them when they suggest the “hail Mary.”
  • They must be well educated in the broader field of HR. They need to be well read, not only in HR, but beyond HR. Business practices that go beyond what they are currently doing. Thus it helps to have worked at other places or be someone who has wide ranging contacts that they can draw from, preferably they possess both.
  • They have to have backbone. They have to be able to make a case for trying something new, have the conviction to back up their decision and have the nerve to face the adversity if the sh*t hits the fan.
  • They have to understand that HR is a system and realize and try to foretell what will happen in other areas when they introduce innovation or creativity in another.

Visualizing a different world

Innovation requires a look at alternative futures. Sci-fi reading can provide some of those futures.

Part of being an innovator in any field, not just HR, is that you have to be able to visualize a different future than the one you and your company may be headed to today. VP of Strategy & Development for faberNovel, Cyril Vart, wrote a blog called 5 Reason Why Innovators Should be Reading More Scifi and Fewer Tech blogs. Monsieur Vart says that in order for innovators to have a different perspective on the future they need to read science fiction. As an employee of an innovation agency he has taken his own and advice and two-thirds of his reading is in the sci-fi genera. Why? Because as he says, “By definition, a sci-fi story is about the future.”  Science fiction authors are all about visualizing a different world and often that world involves the world of work. Vart gives us five reasons to look at sci-fi. These include:

  1. As stated, sci-fi is all about the future. It creates worlds and gives pictures of disruptive innovation on a societal scale. As he says “It provides me with coherent, complete worlds where a finished innovation is used by an actual society.”
  2. Sci-fi is about disruptive “almost there” technologies. Many sci-fi authors are also scientists or walk in the hard science circles. So you may be seeing descriptions of technologies that are not all that far way. Even something like Iron Man uses a technology in a talking system that Siri could evolve into. I saw the new movie Looper today. It is a vision of the future, albeit not necessarily a nice one, but some of the technology presented was pretty cool and not all that far-fetched.
  3. Reading sci-fi is not just an exercise in pleasure reading. Because of some of the complex notions in it requires you to do some analysis, thus sharpening your faculties. Is dealing with the issues of someone from another world all that much different than dealing with someone from the other side of the world?
  4. Sci-fi by its nature is solutions oriented. Difficult challenges must be solved. As Vart says “Sci-fi has to…. Solve how do people eat, communicate, move, sleep, gather resources, consume, etc.” We can learn how to tackle workplace problems in this manner.
  5. Lastly, sci-fi is storytelling. I have written several times on storytelling in HR here and here. Being able to sell your innovation(s) requires you to be a good storyteller so your team can imagine the new future. Why not learn from master storytellers?

The next time you are feeling stale and non-innovative spend some time reading about innovative ideas outside of the world of business. Put a few sci-fi blogs on your reading list and break out some books by Asimov, Doctorow, Clark or any other sci-fi writer. You may want to look at the faberNovel blog. Who knows you may even enjoy it.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg October 2, 2012 at 10:07 am

Mike,
Great post! I personally think we, (HR practitioners), inhibit ourselves by not looking beyond our walls and getting involved in the businesses we serve in. I have been in a position less than a year and have several creative and innovative initiatives going some of which are not HR related. I have used the talent on my team to actually come up with the initiatives by asking questions and giving them a safe avenue to pursue their projects. It is unbelievable how much additional creativity and productivity emerge with you do this. We have to look at our whole enterprise as a partner to see where innovation can be initiated, then, using the items you reference above, go do it!

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Michael Haberman October 3, 2012 at 9:02 am

Greg:
Thanks for your example of how HR can be innovative both in HR and outside of it. Great work.

Reply

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