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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro

teamwork and innovation

Why You’re Missing an Opportunity for Innovation–and It’s Huge

Innovation is an analytical process that involves more than just the creative few on your team…

When you think about innovation, there are usually a few creative people on your team that you turn to first for a conversation. But if those few individuals are valued more than others, you’re missing a huge opportunity. The reality is, every person in every department and function is part of the innovation team. It is not limited to right-brained creative people.

Don’t make the mistake of excluding all the people who can greatly contribute to your organization’s innovation efforts: left-brained analytical people. Engineers, technologists, accountants, lawyers, and the like. (I’m an engineer by education and a self-proclaimed left-brained nerd. And while the left-brain, right-brain dominance concept has been debunked, I find it useful to describe the different ways people think.)

Innovation is a process that starts with an important problem or opportunity and ends with something that adds value. It is not just about how many ideas you come up with, which is often equated with creativity.

To make sure your innovation efforts succeed, try involving the analytical people on your team in these three ways.

1. Focus on the right problems.

Innovation starts with data. You want to make sure you are solving the right problems and analytical people are best positioned to help you answer some important questions. What data will help you identify the greatest returns on your investment? Where can you get the most value with the least amount of effort? What will give you a sustainable competitive advantage? To know if you are targeting the right opportunities, you need information. The best people to provide this are your left-brained number crunchers.

2. Reframe your challenges.

Sometimes the best solutions are hidden from view because you haven’t taken the time to look at the opportunity from a different angle. Never assume that the problem you are solving is the “right problem.” You need to reframe it multiple times to get different and potentially more important problems to solve. Your analytical people are particularly good at finding this because they focus on value rather than ideas. Different questions yield different results. Ask your left-brainers to reexamine the questions you ask about the problems you are solving. For example, the original challenge might be: How can we get more customers? They might reframe it to: How can we increase revenues? How can we increase margins? How can we focus on fewer, yet more profitable customers? Each of these questions will yield very different solutions and different results.

3. Start early. Don’t wait until it’s almost perfect.

Finally, to ensure your innovation creates value, you need a different set of left-brained individuals: the implementers. These are often program managers, engineers, and others who love process. Don’t wait until you have a fully fleshed-out design. Get these individuals involved early because they can see implementation roadblocks before they happen. Their input may provide new insights into the design that can ensure longer-term success.

If you are a left-brained nerd like I am, don’t assume innovation is someone else’s responsibility or that you can’t add value. Your role is incredibly valuable and necessary. Look at it from the perspective of moving your business forward by solving important problems–and the left-brainers in your business can make a major contribution.

This article originally appeared on the Inc. website