I’ve recently discovered the power of forming daily habits to reach my goals, and I’m keen to share my experience and thoughts to get some discussion going. As a person active in innovation – as innovation manager, consultant, R&D manager, business developer, product manager, or C-level leader – you’ve most likely set yourself personal goals around being more inspiring, up-to-date, convincing or creative. Have you also considered which daily habits you could form to reach those goals?

Why daily habits?

For better or for worse our habits shape us. Good or bad eating habits, exercising habits, working habits such as single-tasking, email habits, and so on. They have a profound impact on our performance, health, and happiness. A lot of high performers have developed very specific habits. Have a look at top tennis players when they’re about to serve: they have a very detailed habit including the amount of balls they check and steps they take, before aiming for that next ace.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Studies in this relatively new science show that on average you have to repeat new behavior (let’s say: no emails between 9PM and 9AM) 21 days in a row for the new behavior to become a habit. I’m by no means a routine person myself, but I have to admit habit thinking has had a great effect for me (from enjoying a healthy breakfast each morning to better email habits, single tasking, and regular running). I’m now translating this experience to developing innovation habits. If you want to read more about habits in general, you can check out The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg’s bestseller in this field. 

6 daily habits for innovation professionals

I’m sharing work in progress here, so please share you comments and suggestions! Which habits do great innovation managers have? Which do I have myself, perhaps without being aware of it? After review and analysis, I’ve gathered the following 6 habits for innovation professionals. I’ve learned that you don’t have to perfect in your habits. Starting and doing it is actually the goal in itself. Why don’t you pick just one of these, and start today?

1. Discover 1 pattern

Associative thinking, or the ability to recognize and combine patterns, is key to innovating. Try to discover one pattern per day. For example, you read about a new start-up in car sharing today, and your company is introducing a open office / flexdesk environment: there’s a pattern of people collaborative using things – cars and desks – without owning just one, and with an overall reduction of the amount of things in the network. Get good at it making associations, and write down or draw one pattern per day!

2. Always be pitching

As an innovator you will have to “sell” your ideas – to executives, client or external investors. Make it a habit: pitch at least one idea per day to someone. At the coffee machine, during lunch, at home, plenty of opportunities. Get out of the building, validate a key assumption about your idea with people on the street. You only have a silly idea today? Get out of your comfort zone, just do it.

3. Daily inspiration & ideas

Intellectual curiosity is proven to be a key trait of successful innovators. Find daily inspiration in blogs, twitter streams, going to events, LinkedIn groups, and totally new experiences. I prefer a mix of 90% strongly selected information sources, and 10% really random information sources that can surprise you. Keep a note book: write down any idea that pops in your mind. Make creativity a habit.

4. Turn one problem into an opportunity

Innovators are almost always positive. During each day you come across tons of problems – from a broken coffee machine to a technology bottleneck for your next project. Make it a habit to turn any problem into an opportunity. Broken coffee machine? Make it an opportunity to go out to a startup coffee bar with one of your colleagues; an opportunity to discover tea; an opportunity to learn how to fix a coffee machine; or any other opportunity you can think of.

5. Fail and learn.

It might be a strange habit but truly innovative people aren’t afraid to fail – like most people are – so you have to exercise and experiment. You need to have a stomach for uncertainty. Take some risks today, fail at something, and learn from it. I personally had some difficulties with this one. Last year I set it as one of my objectives. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone a lot, but I have learned even more and haven’t regretted it for a second. If you have difficulty to fail at something because you’re insanely awesome, than make it a habit to do something new each day (new route to work, talk to a stranger,…). This will give you a large opportunity to fail and learn something. Also, scientific research shows diversifying your experiences has a significant impact on your creativity.

6. Make 1 thing.

We all spend too much time analyzing, meeting, and documenting. We are all makers though! Our making skills and habits are just underdeveloped – thanks to a management-focused company system and a thinking-focused education system. Try to actually make something each day. Working on an innovative idea? Try to make it: discover paper prototypes, collages, coding, mock-ups, 3D printing, and so on. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, I know. But fun and productive too. Some companies like Facebook aim to have all Makers instead of Managers: read more about how everyone at Facebook is encouraged to learn by making, even those in C-suites. What could you make today?

How to develop your personal innovation habits

Forming habits is not easy. Not at all. Just think about trying to exercise or eat healthier. You have to stick to it long enough for your new behavior to become a habit. You can read more about the 4 habits that form other habits or the definitive guide to sticking to a habit, but here are the ground rules that I found most useful:

1. Start extremely small

Make sure you can’t fail your first habit. When I started some of my habits, I also had the tendency to start with very ambitious habit goals. That doesn’t work. Don’t start with setting a goal of 10 creative ideas per day (or similar: running 60 minutes per day), rather start with 1 idea per day (or similar: exercises just 5 minutes per day). Do it as long as needed for it to become a habit – on average this is 21 days in a row. Never miss 2 consecutive days. Than build on it and expand your habit. The frequency is way more important than the size.

2. Write them down

I’ve found it very helpful to write down the habit you want to adopt so someone else would be able to follow it. Making your habit very concrete (f.e. each day at 10.00 AM, the amount you aim for, where you will be,…) will boost your chances of success. You have less to think about before doing it. Or in other words: you. 

4. Enjoy your habits

A lot of people start habits because they want to reach a goal, like loosing weight, but don’t like the habit in itself. This decreases your chances of actually succeeding. Keep a positive mind and enjoy your habit each time. I guess for innovation habits this might be a bit easier than following a strange diet!

5. Track with lift

Of course there are apps to help you. My big time personal favorite is: Lift. Lift is an intuitive, social app that let’s you check and track your daily habits. You also have the opportunity to join habits with colleagues, so you can make it a combined team effort to be more innovative.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

What do you think?

I’ve experienced the benefits and the power of forming daily habits, so I really wanted to share these thoughts. I’m very much looking forward to your experiences and views on this! Which innovation habits do you have? Consciously or unconsciously? Which habits would you plan to form? Which habits do great innovation leaders have?