“You do not need to be either a born innovator or a professional coach to use coaching to drive innovation. You do need the right attitude, behaviours, skill set and a ready supply of tested and practical coaching models.”

Cristina Bianchi / Maureen Steele writing in Coaching for Innovation

Innovation is not something you need to shy away from or be intimidated by. Innovation is about coming up with things (or ways of doing things) that are new and useful and which add value for the customer, whoever this customer may be.

First step: have the right attitude

Driving the innovation process and making innovation happen means playing your part in creating a culture in which idea generation can flourish, deciding what to do with the ideas that are produced and then following through with the implementation. Without this approach and attitude you will find it very difficult to be effective:

  • Be convinced about the benefits that innovation brings.
  • Have the purpose of adding value in some new way.
  • Drive yourself to look for new ways of doing things.
  • Cultivate your curiosity and your willingness to learn.

Second step: ten ways to behave like an innovator

There are some common behaviours shared by most successful innovators.  None of these behaviours, either individually or taken together, act as a guarantee for innovation but without them it is extremely unlikely that you will even get started:

  • Observe and be curious about everything.
  • Ask questions of yourself and others.
  • Listen with great attention.
  • Look for opportunities at every twist and turn of the road.
  • Connect with other people and be interested in what they have to contribute.
  • Learn from others outside of your own niche and area of expertise.
  • Dare to be creative and do things differently.
  • Value your own ideas and those of other people.
  • Take a risk and experiment.
  • Be willing to fail but always learn from the failure.

Third step: knowing which question to ask and when

The innovation process is made up of a number of different stages and requires a variety of skill sets along the way. For example, the skills needed to come up with ideas and encourage others to do the same are different from those you need to manage the execution and implementation that follows:

  • Devote time and reflection to considering the specific skills needed.
  • Assess what you already have in place and then polish up your own skills and surround yourself with the right people.
  • Draw upon the skills of your team members and match the skill set to the task in hand.
  • Make sure your team is made up of people with diverse skills that complement each other.
  • Know when and how to solicit support and resources from outside the team whenever they are needed.

Fourth step: use coaching conversations to drive innovation

When it comes to innovation, coaching conversations are the missing link. Innovation is as much about people and constructive dialogue at every step along the way as it is about processes and data. There is no better way to have constructive dialogue than to have coaching conversations. Having a coaching conversation is based on several elements:

  • Powerful questions: the questions that you ask during a coaching conversation elicit information, help you to make connections, and allow you to push yourself and others towards bigger thinking and idea generation.
  • Mindful listening: a high degree of attention in listening to the answers to these questions means you are really focusing and you can learn from both your successes and your failures.
  • Process management: knowing which question to ask when helps you to manage the innovation process from the first early steps through idea generation, selection, testing, decision-making and execution.

The Training Box recommends:

How do you rate yourself currently on the behaviours that will support you in your drive for innovation? Take a short questionnaire and “Check your Innovator Behaviour”