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Key to Innovation: Becoming an Observer

Key to Innovation: Becoming an Observer
Innovation

We all need to innovate to stand out from the crowd. But what is the key to innovation? The answer, or at least an important answer, is becoming an observer. By observing how we and other people do things, we will spot opportunities for improvements. The more we observe, the more opportunities we will find. We can then work to provide solutions for some of the problems. By becoming a good observer, we will recognize the problems before many people do and have first-mover advantage.

Here are some things you can do to innovate through observation:

1. Don’t take things for granted

There are many things which look usual on the surface but have some hidden opportunities behind them. So open your eyes to observe even the seemingly normal things. Observe how you and other people do routines, and discover the details you overlooked.

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2. Watch for inconveniences

Inconveniences are clear signs of problems. Are people waiting too long for something? Do they find it difficult to accomplish certain tasks? If you watch for inconveniences, either those experienced by you or by other people, you can easily find opportunities for innovation.

3. Watch for possible gaps

Sometimes we are so accustomed to doing things in a certain way that we can no longer see it as inconvenient. In that case, it is up to your imagination to spot opportunities for improvements. Maybe the current process is already efficient, but you know of some technologies you can use to improve the process even more. The difference between current situation and possible future situation creates a gap for improvement.

4. Follow technology trends

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To help you with the previous step, you should closely follow the trends in technology. Familiarize yourself with the latest developments in relevant fields. This way you will expand your horizon of what is possible and make it easier for you to spot possible gaps for improvement.

5. Watch how your competitors work

You can get ideas for innovation not only by observing how people work, but also by observing how your competitors work. Is there something they do well that you can learn from? If yes, then don’t hesitate to take the idea and implement it.

6. Observe different people at different places

To get broader perspective of a problem, you should go to different places and observe how different people do things. By observing people from different backgrounds in different situations, you will see different dimensions of the problem. This way you will come up with better, more complete solutions.

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7. Capture every idea

To avoid losing the ideas you get, you should write them down as soon as possible. Otherwise it’s very likely that the ideas will disappear and will never come back. So you should have a capture tool handy wherever you go.

8. Create a master list of problems

By having one central place to collect all the problems you find, you can easily compare one problem to another to find which one is more potential. If you want to, you can also classify the problems to make them easier to browse.

9. Review your master list of problems

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Every now and then, you should review your master list of problems to see all the opportunities you have. After reviewing the list, you can take one or two problems to work with. The best problems to take are those which are both painful and solvable.

10. Take action

Eventually, you can take action based on the problem you choose to provide a solution. By becoming a good observer, you will have a head start in coming up with a solution.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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