Just do something!
If you are waiting for the sign from above (by that I mean your executive management) that you may now go and be innovative, stop waiting. Even if the sign comes, it will be so watered down and so filled with misdirection and uncertainty that you wouldn't act on it anyway. Act now, even in small ways to develop innovation activities and skills, so that you can then build on those activities and flesh them into new ideas, and new products and services.
When I say this to many mid and senior level folks I talk to, they want to know: what can I do to make a difference? There are a host of small actions you can take to start innovating, and as you do you'll build credibility and will attract others who are interested and want to work with you. If you never start, you'll never build the community or team you need to succeed.
Here are just a few things that are very easy to do, and very inexpensive to do, that just about anyone in any firm can do to add value and start innovating. Once you do these things you'll build your credibility and get to do even more.
- Document trends and provide your sense of what they'll mean for your business in the near future. Yes, I know this isn't your job, but as it turns out it's not anyone's job in most businesses but everyone needs this synthesis. A well organized consolidation of trends, transitioned into a document that provides shape and clarity to a potential future outcome, is helpful to any organization. And, since no one else is doing it, you are now the expert. If someone disagrees, then you've attracted a compatriot who can work with you to provide a counterpoint. All innovation starts from recognizing an opportunity, issue or threat before others do. Trend spotting and synthesis can get your team there first.
- Observe your customers. Go read the complaint letters. Read what people are writing about you online on Facebook or Twitter, or other blogs. Go watch your customers use your products. Become a customer of your products or services. Write down what you like, and don't like, about your products. This is free Voice of the Customer and Ethnography. As you do this you'll gain insights into unmet unarticulated needs, which are also a great opportunity for innovation.
- Use brainstorming and other idea generation tools as frequently as possible, and use them in the right situations and contexts. Rather than pull a rarely used tool out of the toolbox ocassionally, use the tools regularly and effectively. In that way, idea generation doesn't seem so artificial, but a natural part of doing business. And since you're doing it regularly, you learn more about how to do it well.
- Read the best books about innovation, to learn more about the best practices and tools, so when there are opportunities for innovation, you can recommend the appropriate tools and techniques. Learn to be a good facilitator, and understand the rules and techniques for idea generation. As your skills grow, you'll be asked to lead idea sessions for other teams.