How Job Seekers Can Leverage Innovation

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Portrait of child in classroom. Kid with toy virtual reality headset in class. Success, idea and innovation technology concept. Back to schoolMore than ever we are trapped in a sea of sameness. Want proof? Simply head to the grocery store and check out the 20 odd types of dental floss on display. Regardless of the space, from physical products and services to creative endeavors and even potential romantic partners, the choices are endless. Turns out there are plenty of fish in the sea.

This is an excellent time for consumers, but the glass can seem half full when you’re on the sell side and faced with the daunting task of standing out in loud, crowded, and largely homogeneous market. Sound familiar job seekers?

The problem is due in part to our collective incompetence when it comes to innovation. Creativity, the catalyst for the new, simply isn’t taught in school. In addition, natural “ah ha” moments that come from white space thinking have all been obliterated by the buzz of our mobiles and the pull of social media feeding trough. If we want to rekindle our creative side and spark purposeful innovation we need to think deliberately by incorporating these four process points.

  1. Think Bigger Sooner:

Big ideas naturally get smaller under the weight of corporate constraints and team input. However, to get customers to change from products, services, or ideas that have already adopted, your alternative has to offer more than parity plus results. To truly underscore the benefit of your offering it’s helpful to start with a 10x idea and scale back if needed. Think Walt Disney’s Epcot Center. As a candidate, this equates to showcasing your transferable skills and points of differentiation to create separation from you and other job seekers.

  1. Focus on Solving Problems:

Creativity for creativity’s sake often produces interesting conversation, but not much in the way of tangible results. To be productive, focus on real problems. You can jump-start your process by creating a “what bugs me” list and then asking questions to get at solutions. Examples include:

  • Why can’t you…
  • What if you could….
  • It’s so frustrating that…
  • If only there were a way to….

Remember the greatest innovations were never asked for – think iPod. As a candidate, it’s helpful to listen for problems you, and perhaps only you, can help solve. In none materialize during the interview ask. Having established your expertise in step one above, this allows you to look for ways to capitalize on those assets.

  1. Embrace the Boring Bits:

Most people focus their innovation efforts on creating core products or services. However, you can gain significant value and bottom line results from thinking about how people do what they do. To be successful companies often need to create the next big thing, but they can’t forget to consistently strengthen core operations and challenge convention along the way. The latter two are less sexy, but equally critical. There are a lot of big ideas then fail at launch or sputter out due to poor processes.

While there may be other candidates with greater functional expertise or raw creative talent, you can set yourself apart by displaying an affinity for and competency in the unsexy elements of innovation, namely change management and process improvement. This is important in any field.

  1. Know Your Competition:

Knowing what you are up against is critical for cultivating a competitive advantage. Like organizations, job candidates must take a broader view of competition and recognize that their greatest competitor is the attention span of their audience – recruiters and hiring managers.

Time is the new status symbol. We all have less of it and we all want more. Recently job seekers, specifically early career professionals, have opted for quantity, inundating hiring managers with resumes and portfolios, and on-line career pages. Here’s the thing. We don’t care and don’t have the time to review them if we did. Instead of jumping on the social media “look at me” bandwagon consider your audience and make it easy for them to select you. How? By doing their job. Take the job description and craft a side-by-side showing how your skills make the selection a no-brainer. That’s innovation. Sending a resume on pink paper with a balloon animal is just stupid.

Jump Start Your Innovation

Ask people where they are most creative and you will likely hear answers such as, the shower, the drive to work, when I’m running, etc. This is not surprising. Experts believe that creativity and the innovation that springs from it needs white space or quiet time to take shape. Brainstorming sessions, which are typically the go-to solution for generating ideas in the workplace, can often have the opposite effect. To combat this, make time to invite innovative ideas into your mind and quickly transform those concepts to the bigger version. Once you have your prototype, open up to brainstorming where a series of “what ifs” and challenges can refine, enhance and build on your concept.

Finally, don’t worry about constraints. Every company, every job, and every situation has them. Innovation loves constraints for it frames the challenge.

So – what’s your challenge? Are you looking to change careers, score a big promotion, or win the right to lead that critical project? Can thinking deliberately about innovation help you overcome it?

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Check out my latest book The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi or LinkedIn


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