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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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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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