A few years ago an Argentinian mechanic named Jorge Odón saw a YouTube video showing how to extract a cork from inside a wine bottle by inserting a plastic bag, inflating it so it surrounds the cork and then pulling it out. He and a friend tried it out over dinner. It worked!

For most of us that parlor trick would be good for a few chuckles. But Odón woke the next day to a lightbulb moment. He theorized that the same method for extracting wine corks could be applied to delivering difficult babies. Odón developed a prototype and shared it with an obstetrician who encouraged him to pursue research and development. Today the Odón Device is hailed as the most revolutionary development in obstetrics in the last century—a low-cost lifesaver in developing countries and a means of reducing Caesarean births in developed ones.

The story is a reminder of the importance of innovation. If a mechanic with no medical background can transform obstetrics, then each of us is capable of changing the world in some way. As leaders we can encourage our teams to find their inner “Odóns” by establishing an environment that values and rewards innovation.

Let’s consider how to challenge the status quo, create a culture of creativity and develop a workplace that’s nimble and adaptable to change

Model it

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” Steve Jobs said. He’s right. Leaders must act on opportunities quickly and decisively. Their decisions must reflect where their businesses are going, not where they are today. If you want to see creativity in your team, you need to demonstrate a forward-thinking mindset.

Encourage positive failure

Failure is a critical part of success. My best ideas are rarely my new ones, and my first attempts at anything important are usually miserable. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. My success has been the result of many spoiled attempts that eventually resulted in triumph. Praise creative problem-solving even when the end result isn’t quite what you’d hoped.

Embrace option-thinking

Creative people are comfortable with change and risk. Great ideas are born from uncertainty. I mean, look at Odón. His own wife at first told him he was crazy! But innovators like Odón look for options, no matter how off-the-wall. Those are the people I want on my team.

Insist on solution-thinking

Almost nothing bothers me more than a person who complains without thinking up a solution. I trained my people long ago to bring three solutions for every problem they identify. This not only minimized the issues that came across my desk, but it also gave my team members ownership over challenges.

Harness the power of fresh perspectives

One of the best ways to remain innovative and flexible is to make the most of new team members’ perspectives. Keep fresh eyes around you and listen closely to their observations. You may be surprised by how much they bring to the table.

Return to the past

Debra Kaye, author of Red Thread Thinking, advises companies to return to the past. No new idea is completely original. Some concepts may not have materialized for various reasons, but it is always good to look at the past and understand why it did not work out. You avoid future mistakes; you can find ways to better the products (new technology, new process, new skill…). Start-up companies which by definition don’t have a past can look at what’s be done in the industry, what did not find success, and bounce off this to create something new.

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