“The value of an idea lies in using it” - Thomas Edison
Innovation may not be an option in your current role. You can think like an innovator—you can practice curiosity and clarity—but you may not have the ability to actually introduce and implement something new. So, if you can’t execute on innovation, what can you do?
You can iterate.
If innovation is introducing something new, iteration is taking something that already exists and making it better. Iteration asks the same of you. It requires you to have eyes to see where the issues are, the curiosity to solve those problems, and the clarity to communicate how you’d do it. But rather than introduce a new idea, system, or experience, iteration allows you to apply those skills to the things that already exist.
When COVID-19 entered our atmosphere in early 2020, so many of us were forced to innovate and iterate almost overnight. What had always worked in the past suddenly didn’t work anymore, and every single brand on the planet was forced to innovate, iterate, or die out quickly. While it may have been the boss’ job to innovate, it was the employees showing up to work in this new world whose iterations made an impact and kept our industries surviving through the crisis.
I heard one story about a teenage girl working at the drive-thru at a fast-food chain. Like many of us in the early days of the pandemic, she was inundated with information about how the virus spread and anxious about catching the virus from an interaction with a customer. When the restaurant opened again, this girl had an important choice to make: wait for someone else to find a solution or come up with one herself.
What did she do? She chose iteration.
She took the credit card reader they used to take their customers’ payments and taped it to the end of a spatula. That way, she could extend it out for customers to pay for their food without having to lean in as close as she usually did. It gave her the social distance she needed to keep doing her job without impacting the customer’s experience in the process.
Was it a perfect solution? Of course not! Normally, I wouldn’t say duct tape and a spatula are the tools you should use on the job to make something “better.” But in this case, they gave this girl the chance to take something that used to work and make it work in a new way (at least temporarily) in this Covid-conscious world.
And it came as the result of iteration.
This girl could’ve shrugged her shoulders and waited for her boss to figure it out. She could’ve said, “This isn’t my problem to solve.” Honestly, she could’ve quit altogether. But instead, she chose to look at what was in front of her and see what she could do to make it better.
That spatula allowed the drive-thru to stay open when others around them were closing. It allowed her to work in a way that made her feel safe, and it gave her customers the same option. None of that would’ve happened if she didn’t have the space to iterate as she got there.
After all, iteration is what ultimately leads us to innovation. Sure, people love to talk about innovation. We love to look at the end result and say, “Gosh, that’s amazing! I can’t believe they came up with that!” But when we do that, we’re missing the details that came before it. Most often our greatest innovations come from years of iterations. We don’t want to miss the moments that led up to the final solution. We don’t want to underestimate the iteration that got us where we are today.
And that is something you can play a role in where you work right now.
For your boss, innovation and staying relevant are always the goals. They want to be looking ahead to dream for the future. They want to be casting vision for the next new thing. But often, your job is different. Your job is to see problems, find solutions, and look for ways to make the overall experience better for your brand.
Your job is to iterate.
For my Audible friends, check out the recent release ofThe Power of Customer Experience on Audible!