The first American rocket successfully launched in 1950 off the coast of Florida. The two-stage rocket combined American and German technology. Due to its innovative nature and visibility, this piece of technology made it into history books.
That’s often our hang up with moving innovative ideas forward. We think we have to create “big rocket” ideas for what we work on to be considered innovative. So, we never start. We also don’t celebrate our incremental improvements because they aren’t rocket-sized.
Here’s a fun fact: The first rockets may have been created by accident in the first century. People who think innovative ideas must be planned in earnest and designed by someone else likely find they’re stuck in the status quo.
Innovative ideas can be really small. The rocket isn’t the innovation. Everything that makes up the rocket is innovation: from the design of the wing to the fuel burn time to the type of screws used. Those innovative ideas collectively made it possible for a successful launch.
We all have great ideas and struggle with making them a reality. Here are five steps to help get your innovative ideas in action.
1. Get started.
It may seem so simple, but a lot of innovative ideas never get out of our heads. Did you know the Americans had theorized the possibility of a two-stage rocket, but the idea was never tested? It wasn’t until the capture of German engineers and scientists during the war, along with some of their technology, that Americans finally saw the possibility. Don’t wait for the idea to be perfect. Just start it.
The easiest way to start is to write down or sketch your idea. Sometimes that’s all it takes to see how it could become reality. Don’t worry about the gaps in your idea at this stage. Get everything out and documented. Seeing your idea in black and white will lead to aha! moments of clarity. It also frees up some head space to think about your innovation from a different angle.
2. Embrace failure.
Remember, your idea isn’t perfect, so you’ll fail a lot as you work out the kinks. Failure is the prerequisite to innovation. If you aren’t resilient, you may never move past this step. The best innovators fail often, but they use those lessons learned to refine their ideas.
Innovative thinkers react differently; they understand failure is part of the process. They hear the word no, and instead of taking that as defeat, they refine their ask, over and over again, to get to yes. For example, you map out a go/no-go process that can’t be circumvented by any one individual and you’ve come up with an electronic grading system that pulls in data from your CRM. However, your IT director says it can’t be done because of your company’s firewall. This situation gives you the opportunity to collaborate with IT on how to make it work, as well as ensure the company’s firewall isn’t compromised.
3. Improve 1%.
Your ultimate goal may be building the rocket equivalent in A/E/C, but focus on small increments to help reach where you eventually want to go. If you focus each day on improving 1% from the day before, you’re moving in the right direction, even when you hit hurdles. Use those hurdles to help refine your project.
Bringing innovative ideas to fruition requires persistence. If you believe in your idea, stick with it. At times, it’ll feel like you’re moving at a snail’s pace, and that’s OK. Keeping the forward momentum going will pay off and won’t let your project become a someday project. Track your progress by creating milestones, so you can see how far you’ve come over time.
4. Celebrate small wins.
Innovations that support lasting change take time to create, adapt, and implement. You have to celebrate the small victories, like when the CFO agrees with your assessment about how to track project pursuit costs, or your marketing team embraces the new InDesign templates, or HR learns how to maintain the company portal going forward.
When you achieve a milestone, celebrate it—even if the celebration is as simple as acknowledging the efforts that got you where you are today. If you wait to celebrate the rocket, you’ll overlook the innovative ideas that led the way.
5. Get input from others.
Throughout the innovation process, it’s important to collaborate with stakeholders, as well as people who have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish. Working with stakeholders helps ensure your idea will work for your audience. Since they understand what you’re trying to accomplish, they can help you look at your idea from various angles, ask great questions as you work through hurdles, and validate your milestone progress.
Teaming up with people who have no idea what you do, why you do it, or what problem your idea is trying to solve helps you look at your solution in a new light. You’ll likely need to explain your idea as if you were telling a third grader, but this helps you break down the process and think through your ideas better. You’ll likely also get the best questions about why your innovation is necessary.
It doesn’t matter whether your idea is big or small, simple or complex. If it will help you, your teams, or your firm fix a problem, perform more efficiently, or win more work, it’s worth pursuing. Innovative ideas lead to bigger opportunities and greater differentiation. Regardless of whether you’re a company of one or one person in a sea of many, you have the tools to move your innovative ideas forward. Today is the perfect day to get started.It doesn’t matter whether your idea is big or small, simple or complex. If it will help you, your teams, or your firm fix a problem, perform more efficiently, or win more work, it’s worth pursuing. Innovative ideas lead to bigger opportunities and greater differentiation. Regardless of whether you’re a company of one or one person in a sea of many, you have the tools to move your innovative ideas forward. Today is the perfect day to get started.