Debra KayeDo you get nervous when you hear “innovation” cited as the must-have skill? Is your organization on an innovation push — but no one knows what that means?

Debra Kaye wants to help you out.

“Innovation is just problem solving in an interesting way,” says Kaye. “Everyone can do it.”

Kaye, a partner at the innovation consultancy Lucule, specializes in brand strategy and innovation for consumer businesses. Her book,Red Thread Thinking, is written to take some of the mystery out of innovation. She recently spoke with CCL.

The idea of the red thread comes from a Chinese legend, according to Kaye. The legend says that when a person is born, a god puts a little red thread around his ankle. The red thread gets tied to all people the baby is going to meet in life, connecting them forever, regardless of time, place or circumstance.

“Innovation is the same. It’s all about connection,” says Kaye.

Kaye writes about five red threads that you can use to make connections and boost innovation.

Red Thread 1: Innovation — It’s All In Your Head. Kaye uses her own experience and recent findings about how the brain works to describe ways to “power up your brain to get better at making connections and weaving threads that result in great innovation.” Some of her simple, but effective advice: forget about ‘right-brain/left-brain’ thinking, stop brainstorming, get away from the work, and be sure to sleep.

Red Thread 2: Everything Old Is New. The past is the greatest source of ideas. Borrow ideas and elements freely. Live in a “posture of looking.” Consider the invention of the Guttenberg press. Chinese moveable type was invented 500 years before Guttenberg’s time. He modified the typesetting process, using lead for the fonts, and adapted a wine press into the printing press. “There is not one new thing in the press — Guttenberg just made the all the right connections,” says Kaye. “If you look at every new invention, that’s what happens.”

Red Thread 3: People — The Strangest Animals in the Zoo. Know what makes your market tick. Gather data. Observe. Understand culture. “People get excited about innovation because they think that they will change the way people behave. You are not going to change behavior,” Kaye warns. “Innovative ideas play into people’s behavior; they don’t change it.”

Red Thread 4: What You See is What You Get. In the world of consumer products, design thinking rules: “make it simple and make it visual.” Design thinking will help you package, communicate or clarify any innovation.

Red Thread 5: The Force of Passion. A belief in your ideas will keep you going. Plus, “If you don’t have passion in what you do, you can’t get other people excited about it.”

Additionally, Kaye offered some advice to managers and leaders.

Don’t badger people into solving a problem. When someone is struggling to make something work or find an answer, have them step away from it. Tell them, You are not going to solve this right now. Put it away. Do not look at it for two days. At same time, take away their fear. Say, Don’t worry about it. I know you’ll be able to solve it. There’s no problem we can’t solve together. You need to show them you have the confidence that the ideas will come and a deadline won’t be missed.

Free the reins. Allow people to feel freedom of their own thought processes; to be fearless in asking unexpected questions; to be able to say, this is not working — let’s pull the plug and regroup. “Management needs to create more of a fearless atmosphere,” Kaye says. “People will be able to give that much more back to the company when you let go of the reins.”

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