The date on my calendar was approaching and my fear was growing…

Weeks earlier I had told my mentor and friend, Bill Eckstrom, about the project I was working on to help professionals flip anxiety from a negative emotion into a positive ally in helping them perform at their best.

As soon as I told him about it, he told me about a summit that his company was hosting for 70 sales managers from around the country. He said that they would love a tool like this and invited me to come to network with them.

The irony of feeling anxious about going to a networking event with a bunch of sales people to sell them a tool that helps you deal with anxiety was not lost on me.

I was going to be thrown into a pack of wolves – people who knew all of the tricks of the trade of sales – and I was going to have to sell them.

As the date of the conference approached, however, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to prove the value of my tool and the value of the three essential pieces necessary for growth and innovation.

 

1. Make a Safe Space

When I told the founder of Econic, Josh Berry, about the opportunity to get our Rise to the Challenge program off the ground, he provided the space to capitalize on it.

He not only equipped me with the resources I needed to get to the conference and network, he also created a culture where I knew that it was OK for me to go there and fail (as long as I was doing my best and learning from the experience).

In order to innovate, you need to make this type of space available to your employees.

It would have been easy for me to sit in my office and create a product based on what I believed sales managers would want.

It would’ve been a heck of a lot cheaper as well…in the short run. In the long run, all of that time I spent at home working on the product could have been completely wasted.

Had I stayed home, even though it would have been cheaper, it would’ve been me pretending like I had all the answers.

By having the space to get out of the building and talk to the real customers, that allowed me to focus on coming up with the right questions.

 

2. Be Curious

“What would you consider your personal brand?“ asked John Rood, head of marketing of the Disney Channel.

John and I had been in a conversation for a good 30 minutes as we discussed his work, his philosophy, and his journey from the cornfields of Nebraska to the executive offices of Hollywood.

“So many millennials want to be ‘The voice of their generation.’ I told him. “Well, I want to be ‘The ears of my generation.’ I want to be curious, open-minded, and aware of everything happening around me.”

John was the keynote speaker that evening, and due to our conversation, he asked me personally to give him feedback. Because he knew that I would be thoughtful and listen to everything he had to say.

Curiosity builds trust. John had trust in me to give him valuable feedback because I was genuinely curious about him, his story, and how I might be able to learn from him to improve my own work and life.

Coincidentally, John brought this up in his speech when he talked about the steps to making a sale:

1. Build trust.
2. Understand the person’s needs.
3. Propose a solution to address those needs.
4. Close the deal.

Whether you want to sell insurance, or your new innovative product, many of us want to jump right to step three. But this makes your customers skeptical and makes you untrustworthy. Because then you are selling. You’re not helping them solve a problem.

Curiosity is the driving force behind building trust and understanding.

It’s no good if you create the space to learn from your customers if you don’t close your mouth, open your ears, and take the time to understand your customers through genuine curiosity.

 

3. Take Action

Another aspect of John’s speech that really hit home for me was the necessity of balance in whatever product you are creating.

For him and Disney, that was special entertainment with heart.

He said that whenever one of those three factors is not in balance, that’s when they start losing their way.

If they make it special with heart, but forget to make it entertaining, they fail.

If they make it special and entertaining, but forget to give it heart, they fail.

If they make it full of heart and entertaining, but it’s not special, they fail.

They need to keep their films balanced in all three of these ways in order to succeed. And when you look at the box office returns of Disney versus any other studio in recent years, it’s hard to argue with this formula.

For us at Econic, the three pieces that keep us in balance are making space, being curious, and taking action.

It didn’t matter if I made the space and listened, if I didn’t take action to talk to the right people and ask good questions.

And it doesn’t matter how many lessons I took away from the conference if I don’t take action on those lessons that I learned.

At the end of the day, those who innovate and end up making a real difference in the world are those who take action.

 

Conclusion

Innovation doesn’t happen in a laboratory – it happens out in the world where your customers exist.

You must make the space for you and your team to get out there, meet with customers, and begin experimenting on all the assumptions you have about your great idea.

Then, when you meet with them, you must be genuinely curious. The default is to start first by presenting your solution before you build trust and understand the needs of your customers.

But those who are truly innovative ask questions that build trust with their customers and take the time to genuinely understand what they need to solve their problems.

Then you must begin taking action. You must take action to get out of the building and engage with your customers. You must take action to ask the right questions. And you must take action to take the next steps based on what you learned from your conversations.

If you can get all three pieces of this puzzle working together, then you can make a truly great impact on the lives of the people you are serving.