Become an Everyday Innovator

By Sarah Sain, CAE • December 11, 2020

Josh Linkner
Josh Linkner

The idea that innovation can only happen on a large scale through grand ideas that disrupt entire industries is a myth that stymies creativity. Instead, tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and New York Times best-selling author Josh Linkner says it’s often small, simple ideas that have a lasting impact. He calls these big little breakthroughs, and they’re what associations need more of to evolve in our rapidly changing world.

Times of crisis are difficult – no one is arguing with that – but they also create opportunity for us to throw out old ways of doing things. Don’t believe it? Just think, innovative giants like Disney, FedEx, Trader Joe’s, MTV, Uber and Zoom were all either founded or saw exponential growth in the midst of periods of economic and societal crisis.

Linkner says that proves that now is the exact right time to focus on today’s challenges with human creativity and ingenuity. By encouraging creative thinking and risk taking as part of your association’s culture, you give yourself an edge over those who choose to remain stagnant.

Develop creativity yourself and within your association much like you would build any other skill: Practice … and practice often. Fear is the single biggest creativity blocker, so create a safe environment where all ideas are celebrated, and failures are viewed through the lens of lessons learned. Every member of your team has a specific job title, but they should also think of themselves as artists in their field who can stoke the creative flames at any time.

In what other ways can you embrace creative thinking and problem solving at your association? Start by adopting the five obsessions of everyday innovators, which Linkner shared at ASAE’s 2020 Technology Exploration Conference (TEC):

Five Obsessions of Everyday Innovators

Innovation Toolkit Idea – Where to Find It

Check out Josh Linkner’s Innovation Toolkit on his website, and look for his upcoming book, “Big Little Breakthrough,” to learn more about why small innovations drive success.

  1. Start before you’re ready.

Don’t wait for permission or a perfectly formed idea. (You’ll be waiting forever if you do that.)

  1. Break it to fix it.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is terrible advice. It’s our responsibility to deconstruct and upgrade our current products and processes to continually improve.

Innovation Toolkit Idea – The Judo Flip

When you’re about to solve a problem, inventory everything you’ve done before, and then ask, “What would it look like if we did the opposite? Flip the script – and your traditional ways of thinking.

  1. Use every drop of toothpaste.

It is possible to do more with less – and we’re all having to these days – through resourcefulness and ingenuity. “We don’t have enough (enough time, enough money, enough resources, enough staff … the list is endless)” can too easily be used as an excuse. Instead, bold innovators look at what they have available and use to their advantage to evolve and grow.

  1. Reach for weird.

It’s easy to gravitate toward what we know works – but reaching for those obscure, bizarre ideas and bringing them to the surface could make the difference.

Innovation Toolkit Idea – Option X

When problem solving, we often seek out options A, B or C, when we should ask, “What is Option X?”

  1. Don’t forget the dinner mint.

Before we hit send on that next email or launch that next new member benefit, consider what special touch that, if added, would make your work transcend all expectations. This is also known as the 95-5 doctrine (coined by Will Guidara of NYC’s Eleven Madison Park restaurant). Spend 95% of your resources on what’s required, and then use the remaining 5% in creative and unexpected – some would even say foolish and irresponsible – ways.

Innovation is often associated with risk, and that is true, but the true risk lies in standing still, because that is when we become irrelevant or disappear. Instead of waiting for the next big idea, allow your association to focus on small innovations – those big little breakthroughs – that will drive future success.

More myths about creative thinking and innovation

MYTH: Creative thinking is only for when we’re experiencing blue skies. >> It is crucial during a storm to evolve for survival.

MYTH: Only some people are creative. >> Human beings hardwired to be creative – it’s our natural state, even if it’s dormant. Everyone can unlock and unleash their creative side.

MYTH: Creativity isn’t practical. >> It’s mission-critical.

MYTH: Creativity is only required for certain roles. >> Creativity, innovation and critical thinking is for all of us and should be deployed on an everyday basis.

MYTH: Creativity is fixed >> Creativity can be developed and learned. Don’t wait for lightning to strike.

MYTH: Creativity can’t exist without more resources. >> Ingenuity and creative problem solving is free, renewable and limitless.

About The Author

Sarah Sain, CAE, is director of content, member communications for Naylor Association Solutions. She can be reached at [email protected].