Why Communication Is Essential to Innovation

We all know the importance of communication. Most of us learn the basics of communication in our early years, starting by using body language (pointing at what we want) to forming our first words. And, of course, once in school we move on to understanding the importance of listening (receiving the message) and using written words to deliver our message. One of the main purposes of communication is expressing a feeling, a pain, an emotion. It is about sharing and making a connection.

It is no surprise that communication is an essential key ingredient in the innovation process – especially when using a methodology like Design Thinking which focuses on empathy.  As we are learning and remembering, empathy is about connecting:  understanding another person’s feelings and needs in order to collect enough information to create a solution that will be beneficial and of use to that customer.

In this blog post, we are taking a look at communication from the perspective of the organization and the innovators choosing to create the best solution.

Destroy or Support? Your choice

I talk often about communication from an organizational perspective with our members and participants at Cookhouse Labs when we come together to work on a project. Before we start working on the actual topic/problem at hand, I invite our sponsors and decision makers to do one very small thing that has a massive impact. What is it? Well, I ask them to describe in their own words what innovation means to them. Yes, that simple. Why? Well, no matter whether it is an open collaboration sprint or an in-house team working on a topic, the one obvious commonality here is – multiple people. And when we have multiple people working together, we also have multiple perspectives. With these varied perspectives comes different meanings to one word – in this case, innovation.

You may choose to go into a meeting room, say to your team that you are expecting an innovative solution, and then walk away, feeling that you have given them all the freedom to “be innovative” and, therefore, you expect great results.  However, if you never actually explained and defined what innovation means to you and your organization, well, you are in for a surprise. Actually, you are in for disappointment. Why? For the reasons mentioned above, your team will “try” to deliver something innovative based on what they think innovation is. They will try to impress you and your sponsors with a solution that, in their eyes and definition, is the most innovative solution. I mean, they even tested it and customers want it. But it often happens that even a great solution is a disappointment to decision makers and sponsors. Why? Because that solution may not be what they had defined as innovation in the organization; unfortunately, nobody communicated it properly to the team working on solutions.

How can you support innovation through communication?

As a leader, take the time to explain to your team what innovation really means to you and your organization. If it is not clear in your mind what the meaning is for the organization, simply ask. A clear definition is like having clarity on your own core values., Once they are clear to you, they are the compass for making decisions in life.

If you are part of the team and you were asked to be innovative, but your sponsor or leader did not explain it properly, or even if you don’t quite understand the organization’s definition, simply ask. Knowing what it is you are working for, driving toward or trying to solve is essential because it forms the foundation for your solution.

5 quick and easy tips to ensure communication is supporting innovation

1.Always define what innovation means to the organization

2. Clarify the expectations: What is needed for the solution to really be a fit in the organization?

3. Ask when something is not clear to you; it may seem basic, but the key here is to ASK (take action)

4. Just as we test our solution during the Design Thinking process, pin the definition of innovation on the wall and test your solution. Does it match the definition your organization provided?

5. Make sure to also share YOUR own definition of innovation – let your team and leaders know what it means to you!

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