Julie Perrine on choosing an innovative mindset

Innovation isn’t just for technology – it’s the key to your career future.

Take a look around any office and it’s not hard to find the latest innovations in software, electronic devices, and furniture. But as innovative as those things may have been when they were first purchased, they quickly become obsolete because another idea inevitably follows, resulting in the latest and greatest thing everyone has to have.

The same thing can happen to us in our administrative careers. If we don’t stay on top of our game and consistently engage in strategic activities to develop and advance our thinking, we’ll become obsolete over time and risk replacement as well. To avoid extinction, we must become innovative admins.

I love innovation because it’s a new way of doing and thinking about things. It’s how we take common, ordinary things and make them better. It’s how we make ourselves better. The goal of innovation is positive change – improvement. But often, we don’t allow time for innovative thinking nor do we create the environment required to inspire a transformation. As success-minded administrative professionals, we must!

What is an innovative admin? An innovative admin is an administrative professional who consistently introduces, creates, or applies new or renewed ideas or methods of doing things to the office environment. This is someone who is actively doing, seeking, and implementing; not someone who is simply maintaining the status quo or coming up with ideas that are never acted upon.

The terms innovative thinking and creative thinking are sometimes used synonymously. However, creative thinking and innovative thinking are not identical. Creativity is the mental ability everyone has. Innovation comes when you can actually implement the ideas you generate. Innovation involves taking action on your creative ideas. It’s the process we use to convert the creative ideas into realized results. Creativity is important; but becoming an innovative thinker doesn’t stop with creative thinking alone.

Before we look at some of the specific strategies you can apply to expand your innovative thinking skills, we need to look briefly at four components that are key to your success in this endeavor:

• Choosing an Innovation Mindset
• Understanding How Innovative Thinking Works
• Connecting and Collaborating
• Knowing Yourself Inside Out

Choosing an Innovation Mindset

In her book Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck identified two mindsets that prevail: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. I refer to these mindsets as the , and the innovation (growth) mindset. Here’s how Dr. Dweck defines each mindset:
‘The fixed mindset believes that your intelligence is static, your qualities are carved in stone, and it creates an urgency for you to prove yourself over and over. The fixed mindset leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to avoid challenges, get defensive, and give up easily when obstacles appear, see effort as fruitless, ignore useful negative feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result, they may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.’

‘The growth mindset however, believes the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. Intelligence can be developed, which leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, use effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. As a result, they reach ever-higher levels of achievement. It’s based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every way – in talents, personality, aptitudes, interests, temperaments – everyone can change and grow through application and experience.’

Admins who want to become more innovative must commit to the innovation mindset for the long term. This isn’t a one-time activity; it’s a lifelong pursuit. Just like it takes time for a seed to grow into a blooming flower, professional growth takes time, too. The innovation mindset gives you permission to realize you haven’t learned everything yet, you haven’t arrived yet, and that’s okay.

Understanding How Innovative Thinking Works

In order to get a better feel for the innovative thinking process, it’s important to understand how innovative thinking works. Mike Docherty, CEO and founder of Venture2, a leading open innovation professional services firm, authored an article on Innovation.net entitled: Creating an Innovation Mindset, which brilliantly illustrates how the innovation mindset adoption curve works. Mr. Docherty identifies five innovation mindset stages: dreaming, doubting, quitting or persevering, transforming and championing. As I’ve applied these stages to my own experiences, here’s how these five stages look:

• Dreaming – This is where the process begins – with that great big idea that I know is the next best thing. I’m so excited about giving it a try, there’s not much that could possibly stop me. Optimism abounds.
• Doubting – Inevitably though, things don’t go as I had planned, and I face the potential of a failed idea. It’s never as easy as I thought it would be. What’s important to realize at this stage is failure is a natural and useful element of innovation. It forces me to learn from my failed effort and adapt the original idea or to determine that it’s time to try something else.
• Quitting or Persevering – This is the stage that truly separates innovators from dreamers. Am I willing to keep trying different strategies to make my idea happen if I believe deep in my gut that the idea still has potential?
• Transforming – When I persevere and don’t quit, I gain all of the benefits and rewards of the transformational experience of having worked through the challenges. My confidence is then built upon depth of knowledge and experience.
• Championing – When I repeatedly put this much effort into fighting through the challenges that lead to these transformational events, I always gain confidence! Typically, a healthy dose of recognition follows from my peers. But as Mr. Docherty points out in his article, this gives me the unique ability to champion continued innovative thinking in myself as well as those around me. As I experience the implementation of my innovative ideas again and again, I gain a recognition and calmness about the trial and error process that is inherent in innovation. And, I develop a clearer sense of when to pursue an idea further or move on to another one.

Mr. Docherty’s model helped me wrap my brain around the mental stages we all go through as we train ourselves to become more innovative admins. Learning to persevere through failed efforts, overcoming self-doubt, having confidence in yourself, facing fear head-on and persevering through it all, is part and parcel of developing an innovative mindset. It’s very easy to get discouraged or disheartened; to begin doubting your abilities; to even be tempted to quit or abandon an idea or initiative if you don’t realize what the process looks like to take an idea from concept to completion.

Sometimes you have to develop a real depth of knowledge on a topic or idea before you discover the concept that becomes the innovative idea. Only then can you implement the idea with confidence. Innovative thinking takes time — time for ideas to percolate, time for experimenting with them to see what will work and what won’t, and time for them to become fully brewed and ready to serve.

Collaborate to Innovate

One of the other key discoveries to becoming a more innovative thinker is the power of collaboration. The more you share knowledge, information, and ideas with others, the better your own ideas will become. Innovation develops when we exchange ideas between and among a diverse set of minds. It’s the old adage, ’Two heads are better than one.’

Innovative thinking is a collaborative way of thinking; it’s not territorial. You can’t be an information silo where all knowledge, ideas and creative thinking is exclusive to you. It has to be shared. You must cultivate an innovative environment around you at the same time. If you want to attract other innovative minds to you, you have to be fully willing to collaborate and share with them also. Your unique DNA becomes more powerful as you collaborate and share ideas with others and others share ideas with you.

Knowing Yourself Inside Out

Knowing yourself inside out is also an important component. The more you know yourself, the more you know where you excel, where you have gaps or blind spots, what your strengths are, where your weaknesses lie, and how you normally behave in ideal settings or stressful situations. This is vital information to have, because it helps you identify the support, motivation, and inspiration you may need to see the innovation process through. The better you know yourself, the more specific you can be in seeking resources to support what you’re trying to accomplish. This is powerful data!

Top Five Things You Can Start Doing Today

You can train yourself to become more innovative. In my new book, The Innovative Admin, I share a lot more detail and a much longer list of strategies that will facilitate your transformation into an innovative admin. Here are my top five strategies to get you started immediately:

1. Start Journaling
Journaling can be an important learning tool. When you capture on paper your ideas, thoughts, experiences, feelings, hopes, fears and even opinions, you have the ability to review those reflections, work through them, expand on them, analyze them, and learn from them. Innovative thinking requires time for thoughts to solidify and for good ideas to brew. Sometimes you have an idea but you don’t know what to do with it. Over time, as you continue to reflect on it or research it, it evolves into something even better – an innovative idea that you can implement. But unless you capture that initial idea somewhere – like a journal — it’s likely to escape and disappear permanently.

2. Create the Environment for Innovative Thinking
If you want to become a more innovative thinker, create a physical and mental environment where innovative thoughts can develop by building recharge time into your weekly schedule. You can read, take a walk, do online research, or just sit quietly with your eyes closed thinking about ideas on your mind. Even if it’s only five minutes a day, schedule it! Then honor your commitment to this time to refresh your mental capacity each day. Be sure to keep that journal handy to capture your good ideas!

3. Find or Re-engage With a Hobby
Do you have any hobbies? When was the last time you spent any time enjoying that hobby? If you don’t have any hobbies, it might be time to find something you enjoy doing outside of work. Here’s why: published research has shown that hobbies are actually brain-building activities. They not only add enjoyment to our lives, but they jump-start chemical changes in the brain that trigger the imagination and help us solve problems. Just like any muscle you exercise in your body, the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Hobbies affect the way your brainwaves function, so not only will your mind work more efficiently while you’re enjoying the activity, but your brainwaves will continue to behave that way after you stop. Plus, we all need some FUN in our lives, and hobbies can provide a very positive, healthy and much needed change of routine that refresh us both mentally and physically.

4. Develop Your Innovation Network
It’s important to surround yourself with wise, innovative thinkers if you want to become a more innovative person yourself. Co-workers, colleagues from professional associations, friends, those you follow on the web, or even family members can inspire you to view things in different ways. Who challenges you to pursue new opportunities? Who do you admire and why? When you need solid advice and productive feedback, whom do you call? Who causes you to think differently about the challenges you face? These are people you should consider spending more time with either in person or virtually. Innovative thinking is contagious.

5. Learn How to Take Initiative – IMPLEMENT!
Initiative starts with you and what you can do. You must be able to take action and get things done without waiting for someone to tell you what, when, and how to do it. When you have innovative ideas you want to implement, you need to take the initiative to implement them. But, like anything, if you aren’t comfortable doing this, or if you work for someone who doesn’t encourage you to take the initiative, it can be challenging. In this case, you need to start small by gently asking or making a recommendation at the appropriate time. As you gain confidence over time, you shift toward sharing what you intend to do and reporting back after it’s implemented. Eventually your awareness of your environment will tell you when you need to get approval first and when you can just simply take the initiative and implement. Throughout this evolution, trust builds between you and those you support, you become more self-empowered with each new level you step into, and you have the power to positively lead and influence others with your innovative ideas.

In my personal experience, I’ve found that often I receive credit for an “ingenious” idea simply because I took the initiative to act on my idea – in other words I implemented! When I searched for a great travel itinerary template for my Executives years ago, I kept coming up short. I took that as an opportunity to create one that still gets rave reviews. My executive did not ask me to create one, I just did it and came away looking brilliant.

If you want to become more than just the secretary or administrative assistant…if you want to become an administrative leader in your organization, you must learn how to think innovatively and take action. As the economy continues to change and evolve, you don’t need to be afraid of the future. You can remain vibrant and successful if you commit to leading yourself to becoming a more innovative admin. If you’re ready to transform your thoughts into innovative thinking that will transform your career…let’s get started! Unleash the power of innovative thinking in your administrative career and become known as The Innovative Admin!

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Julie Perrine is an administrative expert, author, speaker, and all-round procedures pro. She is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing innovative products, training, and resources for administrative professionals ... (Read More)

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