Driving Innovation with Soft Skills

Driving Innovation with Soft Skills

Research have proven that any environment characterized by mistrust, judgmental managers, gossip, and fear of failure would lead to innovation but rather one that promote psychological safety.

Here’s how you can focus on soft skills to build greater psychological safety and nurture a culture of innovation:

  • Know yourself. Notice your own responses to new ideas, possibilities, brainstorming, and failure (your own and others). Are you the one who says, “We tried that before? It didn’t work”? How strongly do you hold on to the status quo? How much do you really look for new opportunities and ideas? Adjust your mindset to be welcoming of idea generation, knowing most new ideas fail and you only need one to succeed (like how the iPhone changed Apple’s future).
  • Be trusting. Give people the benefit of the doubt, especially in public and when someone is taking a risk. Safety is when someone can be vulnerable without fear. Share vulnerabilities about yourself, when you’ve failed, what you learned. Admit when you don’t know something or made a mistake.
  • Celebrate innovation. This includes attempts at innovation. As Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” And as Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When an employee shares a mistake or a failure, ask, “What have you learned?” When a project stops or fails, have a meeting to debrief about learnings. Positively reinforcing behaviors like smart risk-taking, learning, and putting one’s head above the parapet will ensure that they will be repeated.
  • When people feel that they are really being seen and heard as individuals, they are more trusting. So, listen to what people say and what they don’t say. Listen for their assumptions and beliefs (both empowering and limiting). By understanding people better, you can learn about their needs and motivations to help them feel secure and unleash their potential. 
  • Say what you want. If you want more innovation, ask for it. Give people opportunities to innovate and the parameters within which they can take risks. Empower employees to innovate within their jobs for increased efficiency and effectiveness. And highlight where innovation has been happening in the organization or outside. 
  • Coach People. Coaching helps people find their own solutions. This creates resourcefulness in them and unearths their ideas. More ideas-yours and theirs-means more options and potentially better solutions. 
  • Be curious. Ask questions. Challenge assumptions. Uncover organizational blind spots. Many people think that if they give the best answer in a meeting, they will appear to be the smartest person in the room. But my experience is that the smartest person in the room asks the best question, the one that causes everyone to take a breath and really think. That’s the place where true innovation happens. 
  • Foster courage. Courage is the ability to do something in the face of fear and pain, to face difficulty and danger. Innovation requires courage as it’s dangerous to try new things. This might sound similar to the idea of vulnerability above-and that’s because it is. Courage and vulnerability are two sides to the same coin. You can’t be courageous without being vulnerable, and vice versa. 


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