Constantly exploring due to curiosity about what others are doing or how to improve is a necessary precursor to any innovation. Through exploration, we can learn about our environment and about new concepts that we can apply to our companies. Relentless curiosity without an explicit agenda is necessary for sustained creativity.
Exploration does not have to be exhaustive. There are endless topics you can research around how to run companies. It is not necessary, however, to be experts at everything to create and grow a great company. Staying curious and constantly exploring to see how things can be improved, however, is.
Innovation is not a one-time event. It is more like painting layers on top of the other in an organization. You implement one thing, explore some more, then implement a new one. Some will work well, while others will need to be tweaked. Then, you continue to explore some more.
The idea is to study the places you want to improve by finding related resources, listening, and speaking to others and experimenting. As you continue to explore, you will find a coherent amalgamation that is just right for you and your company.
Roaming your office or simply having conversations is one way to listen. It is very easy to lose touch with the different parts of the company in the middle of day-to-day work, but if that happens too much, you may miss important cues. Other times, we have so much work to do that our interactions can tend to be transactional, and we may not be taking enough time to listen to what others are saying or experiencing.
Listening and getting to know people will provide incredibly useful insight into the company and its needs. Jack Welch, GE CEO between 1981 and 2001, famously sought out opportunities to get in touch with people at different levels and areas of the company. Sometimes he would surprise executives because even he knew details that they didn’t know about their divisions.
As an experiment, I booked time in my calendar specifically to listen to different people in the company. Not only did I want to listen more, but I wanted to connect deeper with everyone at Celaque. I started going to lunch every Tuesday with a different person. It is going to take me almost an entire year to go to lunch with everyone on our core team, but I think it’s worth it.
I’m learning so much about their perspectives. Plus, getting to know everyone and learning about them has helped make my work more fulfilling. I’m inspired by the people I work with and am very proud to be on the same team.
Reading and Learning
The importance of reading cannot be overstated. Yet you don’t have to know or apply all the management theories that exist. That would not be possible, even if you wanted to because much of it contradicts itself.
Eventually, as you read and explore, things will start to overlap, and there will be fewer amazing ideas that you have never heard about. As you read, you will develop the guidelines you will wish to follow in your own company. You will find concepts that work and apply for you. You can then explore how they would work in your business and where you would want to take them. The more you delve into current trends as well as other, more classic knowledge, the more your company will benefit and grow.
Trying small tweaks is a way of exploring. Safe-to-fail experiments are small interventions that help you learn more about the system that is your company. If they fail, they are tests that will not have any negative repercussions that will affect you or your company.
You may notice that if you move the furniture around one way, the types of conversations that arise are different. Perhaps you may have heard that a company started being fully transparent with all its main indicators and information. You may then try being more transparent by sharing a metric or two to see what happens. Watching the results will give you useful information before fully implementing a new initiative.
Exploration is not, by definition, linear. It will probably end up taking you to unpredictable places, but that is the beauty of it.