As an industry, equipment finance tends to be fairly conservative. Things change slowly and we deal with a lot of regulation. How can leaders in our industry facilitate progress while also encouraging and fostering a new generation of leaders? By focusing on thinking with an innovative mindset.
People who think with an innovative mindset are creative, forward thinkers. They’re comfortable with change and demonstrate courage. Leaders can either breed innovation or stifle it, based on how they respond when someone comes to them with an idea. An innovative mindset and culture is directly attributable to leadership and what your leaders do when something new is presented to them. Creating a safe zone where team members feel comfortable sharing ideas is crucial to innovation.
There are six key things leaders should keep in mind to foster an innovation mindset.
1. Be curious and explore diverse viewpoints, especially from your clients.This means intentionally seeking out viewpoints that are different from your own. Typically, we seek input from people who have similar views to our own (or our clients). Stop doing this. Getting input from people who may disagree with you makes for a richer viewpoint overall.
2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
You’re not always going to have a clear answer on everything. You may not have all your questions answered and you have to take 70-80% of the information you need and make a call. You may make mistakes along the way, but you’ll learn from those and can course correct. When the tendency is to completely explore an option before we move forward, we often get into a circular pattern and don’t go anywhere. The information might be unclear or ambiguous and sometimes you just have to go for it anyway.
3. Resist the urge to say no right away.
Keep an open mind when somebody comes to you with an issue, and hear them out even if you think you know the answer already. Have a curious mindset to explore whatever the initiative might be. It’s human nature to say no, because it feels like too much work or you think it won’t work, but resist that urge to shut it down. What didn’t work in the past might work today, but we’ll never know if we say no right away.
4. Learn from your mistakes and do better the next time.
Mistakes are going to happen. Don’t be defensive about them or cast blame. If a team can come together and really explore what happened without the blaming, defensive mindset, they’ll learn from the mistakes. Rather than saying “why did this happen,” shift your mindset to “what can we learn from this?”
5. Be persistent, deliberate and act quickly.
As leaders, we can “over-committee” things and get in a feedback loop rather than acting quickly. To think in a more innovative way, you need to avoid that “decision by committee” paralysis to keep yourself and your team on track. Don’t let the committee spin and spin and go in the same circles. Keep that forward pressure toward the objective.
6. Stop playing old tapes.
Maybe there were things that didn’t work in the past, especially for people who have been in this industry a long time. But you can’t automatically say “we tried that 20 years ago and it never worked.” Are all the circumstances the same as they were 20 years ago? They almost never would be exactly the same. There may have been an issue in the past and we avoided it like the plague, but the situation could be very different today. Avoid the thought process of “we don’t do X or we are X.” Work to constantly have an evolving mindset of what you are as a company and what you want to be in the future.
To implement a culture of innovation, consider starting small by creating diverse employee teams who are tasked with coming up with solutions to everyday problems. Magic will happen when people are empowered to own a positive outcome in a safe place - especially those who are closest to your clients. This encourages collaboration and ownership.
Sometimes it is the small things that make the biggest impact, so don’t overlook the things that are easier to achieve through empowerment and delegation. A few wins can go a long way in creating momentum in the right direction. To innovate, there’s a concept of taking small bets. If something is new and you do it in small pieces, it’s not as catastrophic if mistakes happen.
The more you practice thinking with an innovative mindset, the more natural it will become to you. It starts out as a conscious decision where you may have to remind yourself to think this way and over time, it becomes much more natural.
Amy Gross is Executive Vice President, Government and Commercial Vendor at Key Equipment Finance. She has 31 years of experience in the industry. Connect with her on LinkedIn