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We are caught up in a polarizing world. Technology is either thrilling or frightening. Robots, automation, and intelligent systems can take over thousands of jobs (and are already taking over in some sectors). The need for large parts of our working population to begin the long, hard, and painful journey of re-skilling to become more digitally savvy is daunting for many. We are in the age of transformation caused by an explosion of technology occurring all around us.

We all need to begin to grapple with what is redefining work in knowledge, skills, and our necessary abilities to be viable and useful. So where do those that focus on innovation position themselves? Actually, they are potentially well-positioned.

The thing is, none of us are immune to the changes ahead of us, and they will impact us all differently. Yet we all will be increasingly moving firstly from routine tasks, as they become automated, and switch more to addressing problems and opportunities; secondly, from a cost focus to a value focus; and thirdly, from (just) skills to capabilities, as we transition into this world where technology adoption accelerates away.

To begin to adapt to this transition, we will all need to become readier to accept being self-managed. That’s a good thing. For many, it is a little uncomfortable. So, we need to look around and see what might help us. We need to understand how to become more intrapreneurial, agile, and adaptable, and continuously seek out a diverse set of collaboration spaces as places where we can be seen, appreciated, and valued. Working in the innovation space offers you the opportunity to grow and learn what this means and how it works for you.

So, the value of becoming more engaged in being creative, wanting to participate in innovations, will position those people at a significant advantage in the new world of skills we will be needing.

A detailed report for the World Economic Forum in 2018 investigated viable and desirable job transition pathways on the Future of Jobs. What struck me was the role innovation plays in all three categories: today's skills (2018), those that will have demand in 2022, and those that will decline in 2022. Look at the skills predicted to decrease in 2022, many of which are still being taught in our schools, and many that we continue to traditionally focus on within our present work. Transitioning from skills we find comfortable today to skills that will be new to many is a journey for each of us. Working in the innovation space will greatly enable you to build skills that will become increasingly valuable.

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Yet, we are becoming (or in danger of becoming) disconnected. We seem dissatisfied today. We feel we are missing out. We are getting more disillusioned by our lack of global leadership. We are turning more inward within our environment, to our company leaders, and to our network of friends to seek out guidance and reassurance. It is within these closer relationships (our networks and communities) that we feel our voices are heard. But how can that voice be projected beyond our immediate circle?

How can we “give voice” and influence bigger challenges? How can we project ourselves beyond those that know us? By taking a more outward action, even we can get re-engaged to influence and change things that can make a difference. Innovation is a terrific enabler to gain confidence, to show your worth, and to feel like you are contributing to the future. We need to focus on bringing value into what we do, and innovation is one of those uplifting ways to achieve this.

Let's think about this a little more with some higher-level thoughts.

Recognition of being empowered by innovation

Innovation needs to transform from being some abstract, distant, vague thing that seems still separated in its specialised unit and not seemingly part of the core of the business we work in. Innovation is central to surviving in the future; it is where we provide not just something new but a better advancement on what we presently have. It is far more than a means to make things faster, cheaper, or slightly different; it is a place to show transformation – to become more radical in what can be possible and seen as highly valuable. Breakthroughs in health, food, energy, agriculture, and tourism can all be more “sustainable” for our planet and for us to live better lives.

Have you noticed everyone has a different definition of innovation? We all struggle with our own definitions of what innovation means. So what? Get over it, and let's recognize that innovation needs to have outcomes that give a certain uniqueness or that sustaining edge to what is presently available. Innovation aims to improve on what we have. Look for your innovation to be distinctly different, empowering, motivating, and showing engagement.

Just imagine you worked on an innovation app that predicted the weather conditions to help rural farmers know how to manage their crops better. Companies like Caterpillar are already doing this, but it impacts lives and enables communities to improve.

As you innovate, you grow your personal value. You get exposed to risk and uncertainty, and how you react gives you confidence or can equally drain that confidence away. Whether you gained confidence in your actions or lost it, it is the experience that lets you grow. It helps you navigate unknown scenarios better, and this skill increases the more you expose yourself to risk. Engaging in innovation can have a profound impact on you. Is this why we shy away from innovation when it seems to have far too many obstacles? Or do we push back and overcome these obstacles? As we push back, we are reshaping ourselves to be far more ready for a different future. Not a bad thing in my mind. It all prepares us to be more confident in the future

When we feel our culture to innovate is wrong, what should we do about it? Should we disengage, or should we show its viability and make your voice one that matters in that validation? We are pushing ourselves. We are becoming more entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial in seeking curiosity, creativity, and human capability to demonstrate why the culture should change, and here’s why in your endeavours you look for those positive climates and environments that can allow you to innovate. Raise your voice; offer sound reasons why a different culture would help find better answers to grow the business.

We need to ready ourselves for change, and equally, for innovation

You have heard many times that innovation is not easy. We all should seek out and learn from lessons to take them on board and build up our capacities to move forward.

We all must get far more comfortable with dealing in all the unknowns coming towards us. The innovation spaces provide plenty of the unknowns; how we go about overcoming them is the gift we have as humans. Machines can help, but humans can recognize and relate far more. We see multiple patterns if we open our minds to them. Machines help us, but ingenuity is with us for a long time.

We often have a natural reflex to go back into safe mode, especially when it comes to innovation. We see the over-investment in productivity that not only drives out variances, but it can also drive out the space and time for creativity equally. We must fight this. Evolution is not built around today’s operations. We need increased flexibility. In shorter production runs to cater increasingly to individual customer demand, we need to tailor our responses far quicker, and we need to be highly adaptive and agile. So, when you feel that reflective urge to revert, fight it. You become far quicker and skilful in what you do.

Can you push for more “foundation” investment in innovation? We often jump in to “solve an immediate problem” and only recognize the (unintended) consequences later. We need to build our innovation capabilities to have a common foundation so we can talk together in more effective ways. We can combine different views and embrace a greater diversity if we have this more “informed” foundation between us. It keeps you engaged.

Pace is not slacking; we are all in need to speed up. Never forget others want to take any “white spaces” or “breaking” market opportunities. Often, others see what we do, but the changes surrounding collecting more data is we can potentially have more insight. So, we need to embrace the tools to harness technologies. We might get to the “big idea” faster if we embrace the new technology tools around us.

We need to build our personal roadmap. We need to be clearer on our ROI. To seek out challenges and opportunities, and go closer to the edge, we do see within ourselves far more. We gain personal power, and our voices are respected and recognized because we were just that bit bolder, edgier, or ready to take something on. Try it. It is invigorating and sometimes a little scary, but we are in that sort of world.

So, what should you do to become more engaged?

Innovate in these ways:

  1. Fully immerse yourself in innovation. Volunteer, seek out, participate, build your distinct voice wanting to make a change, and “push” ideas into exciting concepts that offer real potential. Start to think about how you are going to be a real driver of innovation.
  2. Build your connections – your personal ecosystem that supports you. You need to cultivate your network, work on your relationships, and constantly make connections. Look daily both inside and outside to connect for possible new sources of insight and knowledge. Connect to anyone that is interesting to you.
  3. I really like the term “scaling at the edge.” Smaller always starts lean and then from understanding can scale. You build your presence more at the edge in those roles that have this “edge” of risk, opportunism, or excitement. You are then seen and appreciated because you took a risk; but you always need to determine if you are pushing the (right) edge; otherwise, that edge becomes highly exposed. We learn more at the edge as we are more exposed.
  4. Keep working at innovation – it is both an art and a practice. Learn from past experiences and wear failure with pride. You learn from failure far more than success.
  5. Take on challenges and work in places that you can sense your worth will be valued and appreciated. You gain “proof points and recognition of your worth” that others begin to see, and they look towards you increasingly. Build this gradually then push out.
  6. Just remember perfect is elusive; delivering something better, different, and valuable is your point. Keep pushing forward. If you look towards something more complex, others push back as they ask more questions that stop them from learning. Take the opposite view; you learn by trying, by exploring, by experimenting. Show fast iteration; pivot, learn, move on, but keep on the upward track. The more you try and are curious about, the more you gain experience. And remember, experience can come as much from “knockbacks” as it can from showing your successes.

Summary

We are in a world that cries out for change. It needs the innovator. We need to be ready to experiment, to push barriers, and to seek out more than draw in. The desire for innovation to solve tougher, more complex challenges is growing. This is where our voice needs to be heard. Those that get re-equipped to innovate have much better chances to thrive and prosper in the future. Hard as it is, we do need to embrace change if we want our voice to be heard and respected, and innovation is one of those “sandboxes” where we can experiment, learn, grow and feel better equipped than those that shy away.

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Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft researches and works across innovation, looking to develop novel innovation solutions and frameworks where appropriate. He provides possible answers to many issues associated with innov
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