Creativity is the secret ingredient in highly successful careers. A lot of famous people have used creativity to advance their careers more rapidly than others around them. Alexander Hiam, one of the most innovation experts, outlines ten good ways to make your mark as an innovator.
Look for Opportunities to Stand Out
Exceptional careers are made of breakthrough performances — memorable problems or situations in which you’ve played leading roles. Look for a tough challenge, a difficult assignment, or a new program or invention that needs a champion to be implemented. Be a volunteer and a risk-taker. Tackle something that might really make a difference.
Share Your Enthusiasm for Innovative Ideas
It’s better to be the employee who suggests new approaches than any of the timid people who don’t have the courage to propose an idea or point out the flaws in everyday procedures.
Recognize that the majority of good ideas get shot down. Even ideas that get adopted have usually been shot down a few dozen times before they finally take hold, so be good humored about the process, and don’t get mad if people are slow to recognize that you’re right. A patient innovator is a successful and popular innovator. An impatient innovator is destined to work alone.
Look for Emerging Problems You Can Help Solve
Have the courage to dive headfirst into the most troubling area in your field, and be one of the leaders who innovates to improve it. The only caveat is that you need to pick your place of work carefully.
Look for Emerging Opportunities You Can Surf
It’s hard to know exactly when an industry will take off. You may find that you face a few years of uncertainty and slow growth by trying to position yourself in the vanguard of an emerging field. Pick an emerging field that you’re excited about and really believe in so that you’ll have the satisfaction of doing meaningful work while you wait for your chance to look like one of the big ones that transforms society.
Do Something You Really Enjoy
Unhappy people don’t do very much or very good creative work; they worry rather than imagine. How are you going to do your best work and contribute innovative ideas to your workplace and profession? Certainly not by being unhappy and stressed in your work!
Consider Working on Commission
Most commission-based jobs leave you more freedom to pursue sales your own way so long as you produce. The autonomy of commission-based work is great for self-directed, motivated people who are eager to experiment with different approaches until they find a success formula that works for them.
Build Two Careers at the Same Time
Two career tracks in different industries or fields expose you to many more opportunities than a single career path does.
✓ A shadow career (something that you do in your extra time, such as on weekends or in the evenings) often grows over time to become your primary activity, especially if it’s the thing you most enjoy doing.
✓ By working in multiple fields or professions, you gain a breadth of experience and knowledge that allows you to see creative combinations and options that other people don’t.
To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be self-directed, motivated, and disciplined, and you need enough real-world experience to be able to imagine useful innovations. If you haven’t been in a classroom for a while, sign up for a course at the nearest community college, or if you can’t find a conveniently located classroom, take a course online. Your studies may not turn into a full-fledged degree program, but either way, taking classes will enrich your thinking and power up some parts of your brain that may not have had enough exercise lately.
Volunteering is a great way to build confidence and get practice in problem- solving, leadership, and innovation. It often involves working with teams, so it strengthens your communication and facilitation skills.
Volunteering is a great way to get some experience in a new field that interests you or that you think may someday be combined with your own field of work for a future innovation. Take a look around, and see what you can volunteer for right now that would enrich your own working life at the same time that it helps other people.
Champion Someone Else’s Good Idea
Many people make their mark as leaders in their fields by embracing a great idea early, before other people realize its qualities, and championing its development. There’s a time window — often a really big one — between invention and rapid spread. During that period, an innovation may stagnate or spread very slowly, as early adopters try to get the kinks out and make it work.
Take a look around your industry or workplace
Does someone have a really good idea or invention that just hasn’t caught on yet? Start studying it. Experiment with it in your own work. Blog about it. Go to industry conferences, and lead discussion groups about how to make it work. Being an early champion of someone else’s breakthrough idea is a great role, and without such champions, many innovations would fail to catch on.
Adapted by Alexander Hiam, The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Creativity (HRD Press)