Successful companies continuously embrace new ways of thinking. In this article, we will show managers how to make innovation a habit.

You might be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't agree on the importance of innovation. Without innovation, we wouldn't have put humans on the moon! Nowadays, innovation is no longer only confined to the realms of rocket science and academia. According to The Accenture 2015 US Innovation Survey, 84% of executives consider their future success to be very or extremely dependent on innovation.

A talent for innovation is often seen as a skill that only a few extraordinary people possess, which would make it difficult to cultivate in an organization. At Cognician, we know that's not true. Anyone can activate innovative thinking given the right environment. 

Historically though, many innovative people and product inventions failed because their ideas didn't resonate with their peers. For example, take Jonas Hanway and the umbrella. The umbrella is not a new invention; it has been used in various forms since ancient times. However, in the early eighteenth century, Parisian merchant Jean Marius invented a lightweight, waterproof parasol. In 1712, French Princess Palatine purchased one – and set off an umbrella craze for French noblewomen. Soon enough, French men were ducking under the protective umbrellas as well. 

When an Englishman, Jonas Hanway, saw an umbrella on his travels in Persia, he decided to fashion his own when he returned home. For 30 years, when using his umbrella, Jonas would have trash and insults hurled at him wherever he went. It took 30 years before the umbrella took off in Britain. That's a long time, especially if you've experienced British weather!

It seems crazy now that people would get wet rather than use an umbrella but that was the  norm at the time. Umbrellas (or rather, parasols as they were called then) were for women, and society didn't question the conventional wisdom. It's the same for companies that lack innovation. If you don't embrace it … well, you might just get stuck in a storm! 

Successful organizations embrace and reward forward-thinkers like Jonas Hanway. The way to do this is by creating a culture in which innovation can thrive. This article discusses the four essential habits that managers can use to activate an innovation mindset in their teams. 


1. Look For Alternative Methods

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper said, "The most dangerous phrase in the English language is: we've always done it this way." We often stick to the safer option just because it's comfortable. It's easy to get stuck in the 'old' way of doing things.

Continuing to do things as you've always done is appropriate in some cases but not merely because it's safe and predictable. Stagnant, outdated business practices have led to the demise of once-dominant organizations like Kodak, Blockbuster, and Xerox. Innovation is the result of an environment where experimentation and new ways of doing things are encouraged. 

Identify a problem or challenge that you and your team are facing. Then challenge your team to come up with a range of ideas or solutions. 

While you can't force anyone to come up with new ideas, there are a few things you can do to facilitate them: 

  • Help your team to understand the importance of new ideas
  • Provide your team with a safe space to contribute without fear of judgment (fostering teamwork)
  • Make time in busy schedules to meet and work together on new collaborations, find new approaches to problems, and work through challenges

You owe it to yourself and your organization to investigate changes that can improve your business. So, instead of echoing the old company line, create a new one: "We used to do it that way but we do it better now."


2. Learn from Your Mistakes

According to Honda's founder, Soichiro Honda, "Success is 99% failure." Why then, are we so afraid of it? When you think about it, failure is the best teacher. Innovation and risk-taking go hand-in-hand. As a manager, you need to embrace this. 

Consider how you react when new ideas from your team go wrong. Often, an adverse reaction to an idea that has failed can cause your team members to keep potentially innovative ideas to themselves. This means that there may be many innovation opportunities that go to waste. 

Make a point to ask your team for new ideas regularly. Also, give constructive feedback on those ideas when you hear them. Make a habit of reminding your team members to experiment with their ideas and, rather than admonishing them for mistakes, turn pitfalls into learning exercises. 

3. Relinquish Control

Most people are scared of losing control. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Almost everyone trusts themselves more than they do others. However, effective leaders know that putting trust in their teams means giving up control. The upside? Teams have the space to grow and innovate for themselves.  

As Chieh Huang, the co-founder and CEO of, and a confessed recovering micromanager, said, "Think about the most tired you've ever been in your life, right? It probably wasn't when you stayed the latest at work, or it wasn't when you came home from a road trip, it was probably when you had someone looking over your shoulder, watching your every move."

How often would you say you are directly involved with solving your team's problems? Being too involved in the minute details of every task is not the best use of any manager's time and skills, and, most importantly, it hinders your team from pushing the right boundaries. Make a habit of allowing your team members to solve problems and challenges on their own. Resist the urge to tell them what they should do or how they should do it. You will be amazed at the creative behaviors this can activate within your team. 


4. Ask a Junior

Adam Grant, in his book Originals, suggests that experience has two sides. The more experience we have, the better we are at analyzing situations and determining opportunities and risks. On the other hand, the more knowledge we have, the less likely we are to engage with novel ideas. Radical ideas from the bottom get diluted as they move up the hierarchy, which slows down innovation and causes stagnation. Because of this, the perfect combination for fostering innovation is a collaboration between experienced seniors and their junior counterparts. 

There's a wealth of untapped knowledge among the more junior employees in your team. While they may lack hands-on experience, they can offer some great insights. Make a habit of regularly meeting with a junior member of your team to pick their brain about a problem that you're facing and see what fresh insights you can gain. 

Make a Habit of Fostering Innovation

If you want your team members to adopt innovative thinking like Jonas Hanway, create an environment where it can thrive. You can do this by giving them simple opportunities to practice and experiment with the required behaviors until they become second nature. 


How do you do that? You can try out our Innovation Quest. This neuroscience-based learning experience will activate managers to enable, nurture, and reward innovative thinking. It's cloud-based meaning that it's ready to go as soon as you are. Why not try it out for yourself and four team members?