Whether we acknowledge it or not, we live in an economy of digital disruption. Innovations happen everyday — one of these days, it might be the next big thing that puts you out of a job. But if you’re anticipating the future and trying to be pre-active to future known events, to even be the disrupter (rather than reactive and the disrupted), there’s a better chance you will not only succeed but excel.

Being pre-active and as it applies to innovation the disrupter, however, is easier said than done. More often than not, we are taught conformity rather than innovation. In fact, if you go way back in history, many cultures believed that the most brilliant and creative minds were the result of a unique relation with a mythical being such as a muse or even a daemon. Innovative thinking doesn’t seem that accessible to everyone when we hold such a belief…

Thankfully we don’t live in ancient times; there are steps everyone can take to becoming a pre-active creative thinker that don’t involve muses.

1. Frame-shifting

On any given day, we are most likely relying on our most common way of looking at things. We pay attention to what we are used to paying attention to and we think about topics from our perspective.

To be an innovator thinker, however, it’s necessary to step outside that traditional perspective. It’s necessary to shift the frame, if you will.

Art teachers have known this for a while. While we may know what a human face looks like, when we sit down to draw it, we miss a lot of important details. To train a student, an art teacher might have them draw a face upside-down. This unfamiliar position forces the student to pay attention to details they would have otherwise missed. 

Thinking from the customer’s perspective is another great way to shift your framing. In the age of social media and content marketing, it’s become incredibly important for companies to think as their audience and tap into their world to meet them.

2. Planned serendipity

We’ve all experienced the eureka moment. It’s a great feeling when the right idea seems to just pop into our head. Did you know, however, that it’s possible to create conditions in your life that lead to a higher frequency of those eureka moments?

It’s called “planned serendipity.” Rather than sitting around waiting for that “a-ha!” moment, you can actively seek it out. Try writing everyday, if only for a few minutes. Your mind will get in the habit of produce and thinking generatively. The more you are engaged in the creative process the more innovative connections your mind will be trained to make.

3. Culture of Innovation

Creating a culture of innovation in the workplace happens at two levels: how you treat your employees and how you organize your office.

If your employees don’t see themselves as innovators, they won’t act like one. Giving employees a voice in your business gives them a sense of ownership. They’re more likely to feel a sense of responsibility and, therefore, start thinking critically about the direction of the company. Employees already have an in-the-ground understanding of your company — there’s a good chance they’ll be the one to figure out what your company needs.

Once your employees are feeling like innovators, you’ll want to increase their interactions. Organize your office for unlikely encounters both face-to-face and digital. If it’s not possible to rearrange the office itself, set up meetings between departments so employees collaborate more. And don’t forget to use the many new tools for collaboration as well as visual communications. This will open them up to all sides of the company, and give them more fuel for innovative thinking.

4. Reward Creative Thinking

You get the behaviors you reward. If creativity is seen as a risk with no positive reward, then you may get the opposite and see people stifle creativity and innovative thinking. On the other hand, if creative thinking is rewarded and innovators are recognized, then it will flourish. Keep in mind that you don’t have to always reward with money, as I mentioned recognition works quite well.

5. Experiment

Now that you and your employees are thinking innovatively, it’s time to get started. You won’t know what’s missing in your idea until you put it into practice. Challenges will arise that you hadn’t anticipated. It’s better to hit these early on. In other words, “fail faster.” The point of experimentation is to take risk, but this doesn’t mean that every flop is an absolute loss. There is a lot to learn from practice and experimentation if you approach every experiment as a teaching moment. And make sure you have a way of sharing the lessons learned from each failure!

These are just a few ways you can develop a pre-active and strategic creative skill. There are several more ways to develop innovative thinking — the key is to first believe you are an innovator, and then start to act as one.