2 simple steps to innovation through learning from your audience

I recently helped to teach an online course called “Public Culture” at Royal Roads University. The incomparable Dr. Phillip Vannini, who I work with, was the professor, and the goals of the course were two-fold: teach the concepts and theories around cultural studies, and give the students real-world experience in popularizing academic research.

The projects were as varied as the students themselves, and it was delightful to watch their concepts come to life and help them learn about pitching, writing for mainstream audiences, video production, and turning academese into plain language.

I learned a few things from the students, too.

I knew I would. It’s part of the reason I agreed to help with the course.

Even though I was ostensibly the “authority” in public relations, many of the students had different backgrounds that gave them valuable and fascinating knowledge. Some were former journalists, some had experience in producing audio or video, and all of them had fascinating stories to tell about their research.

Have you ever had to sit in a meeting where someone higher up on the food chain than you tells you how you’re going to do your job? I’ll bet every time, you had an idea or perspective that would have improved the plan… if you’d had the opportunity to give your input.

Moral of the story: results are always better when the process is collaborative.

So the next time you’re pontificating about your field of work (we all do it), remember to ask questions, too, and give yourself the opportunity to learn from the people you’re talking to.

They’re not in your field? Even better. Innovation comes more often when you have a diversity of ideas influencing you. For a great explanation of why, see “Creative abrasion: Intellectual Diversity” in the book Communication of Innovations: A Journey With Ev Rogers.

How do you do it?

1. Let people ask questions

If you’re running the meeting/class/team, leave time for people to ask questions instead of rushing through your spiel and running off to your next meeting.

2. Make sure people know you’re interested in what they have to say. (and 2b: Mean it)

Know your team and their strengths, and ask targeted but open-ended (not “yes” or “no”) questions: “Mary, what do you think about the blog topics we’ve got lined up for this month?” You’re building your relationship with that person by showing them that you know they will have good input on a particular topic. If it’s in a meeting, involve the rest of the team too: “Those are great topics, and I think we can fit one of them into the editorial calendar this month – which one do you all think will work the best?”

Then­—and this is the critical part—take your crowd-approved topic, and actually add it to your editorial calendar.

Simple, right?

What tactics do you use to make sure you do as much listening as talking?

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