Anyone can come up with one good idea. Visionaries come up with big ideas over and over again. Now, here’s a secret: Anyone can learn to be a visionary.
“People seem to think that innovation is a special gift. That someone’s got, they are born with it. That’s bogus. Innovation is a skill that you can learn, practice and become skilled at,” says Phil McKinney, an innovation consultant and former CTO of HP’s $40 billion PC division, formerly known as the Personal Systems Group.
During his nine years at HP, he helped turn that group around from losing $1.5 billion to being the No. 1 PC maker, pocketing $2 billion in profit. He also started a group called the Innovation Program Office — cutely nicknamed IPO. It found and funded HP employees’ ideas so they wouldn’t leave for startups. (He left HP in late 2011.)
McKinney is known for his popular Killer Innovations podcast. He’s currently trotting around the country teaching people how to innovate and he’s put it all into his new book, Beyond The Obvious.
We caught up with McKinney at a lecture in Colorado where explained how anyone can cultivate creative genius.
No. 1: Change your routines. Look at things a new way. Drive new routes to work (or try public transportation or ride your bike to work). Eat lunch with different people. Hang out in new social circles. “Get out of your comfort zone. Innovation is looking at things in new ways. If you talk to the same people or hang out at the same Starbucks, you don’t see anything new.”
No 2: Do a daily brainstorming session on ANYTHING. Eventually, you’ll apply this to your business but start with whatever is outside your window or something you see on your commute. Pick a question and start writing down ideas like: “How would I improve the lawn care business?” Or “What other items would people buy at the coffee shop?” Don’t stop until you reach 50 ideas. Don’t filter. No matter how wild or stupid, write it down.
“The first third of your ideas will be obvious, the second third will be challenging. The final third are really hard and where the diamonds are,” he says.
No. 3: Don’t stop at the first answer to any question. For instance, what is half of 13? 6.5? In one of McKinney’s workshops, participants came up with 43 correct answers to that question. In a deck of cards, the answer is 5 (the median card in a suit). In Roman numerals, XIII, the answer is XI (11) and II (2). Want to be creative? Practice looking past the first, obvious answer.
No. 4: Apply focus to your brainstorming. Once you are in the habit of thinking creatively, start narrowing brainstorming to a focused question targeted at your business/career.
No. 5: Notice assumptions. This is difficult because assumptions are hard to see. They are rules we don’t even know we are following. McKinney says HP’s PC division had to overcome the assumption that there were only two big buying periods for PCs … back to school (the fall) and end of year (the holidays). They came up with a new season, summer, which they called Dads and Grads (Father’s Day and graduation).
To find assumptions ask yourself: Why can’t I do this idea? How do I know that reason is still true? What would it look like if it wasn’t true?
No. 6: Rank your ideas to find one worth pursing. Have everyone in your work team help you rank them. The good ideas will become obvious, McKinney promises (More detail on ranking is covered in the book.)
No. 7: NEVER let “not enough resources” stop you. Not enough money, time or people is actually a good thing. “Not enough resources” forces you into creative new processes. Getting all the resources you think you need leads you to work in the the same old way. That’s a recipe for a bomb, McKinney says.
No. 8: Ignore self doubt. You’ll have it. Good ideas are hard work. Your first try — maybe even your first 10 tries — won’t be perfect. If you let that stop you then you’ll always be stopped.
No. 9: Beware the “corporate antibodies.” Eventually, your idea will need some champions in your company or your industry. To get them, you’ll have to bat down the naysayers, which McKinney calls “corporate antibodies.” (Read more about that: Don’t Let ‘Corporate Antibodies’ Kill Your Best Ideas, Warns Ex-HP Exec)