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In this 3 part whitepaper we’re looking at what it takes for agencies and organizations to make innovation part of their DNA. We’ll be exploring how to over the hurdles to first personal innovation, then team and project innovation, and finally organizational innovation. This paper was written during my time at BBDO and may make references to some of our work their it still holds true for many agencies and organizations.

Personal Innovation

Simple steps to put yourself in a position to innovate.

At this point, it’s safe to say that Innovation has gone from buzzword to obsession in our industry. With everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Fast Company churning out articles on nimble new companies and their techniques, it may be hard to get a grip on how individuals like us – working in an agency structure – can start trying to innovate in the work we do every day. We’ll cover off on steps that can lead to innovation from both a personal and organizational standpoint.

Innovation means something different to everyone

Your specific role and company culture can have a great deal to do with how you approach innovation, but most people can agree on the desired goal: to create something new. It may be a product, process, or idea, but whatever shape it takes, a true innovation advances thinking and (hopefully) achieves results that outperform its predecessors. Given this, it’s no surprise that emerging technology is at the core of many of today’s conversations around innovation and creative ideation. Nine of out ten of the companies listed on the 2012 “Most Innovative” list in Fast Company were centered around tech, with the Occupy Movement as the lone exception.

Here at Proximity, there’s always been an understanding that great technological innovations should be born of great insights and ideas. Problem is, getting from one to the other can often include hurdles of various (and often unexpected) shapes and sizes. At a busy agency, time-sucking albatrosses abound. Setting aside moments to innovate may seem like a luxury you can’t possibly afford. But not to worry, there are ways you can create an environment and mindset to put yourself and your team in a better position – one that’s more receptive and open to innovative ideation. So let’s start at the source. You.

Innovation is a byproduct of your personal know-how

New ideas aren’t born of repetition, they’re created by approaching problems from new angles. Individuals who continually push themselves to evolve and learn the latest processes or technologies put themselves in a better position to see unexpected solutions. If creativity is the ability to generate unorthodox solutions by making connections where there were none, then understanding the breadth and depth of the landscape in which those connections live becomes incredibly important. In other words, if you know what technologies exist, you can find interesting ways to use them to solve creative problems. Your knowledge of the nuts and bolts gives you the power to bend those technologies to create something fresh.

The One Time It’s Ok To Be A Toolbox



Taking the responsibility to continually add to your toolbox of knowledge and skills is the single best way to position yourself for innovative thought. You’re only handcuffing yourself and limiting your connective possibility if you only know a few ways of doing things. Not to say that innovation can’t appear in a vacuum, but having a grasp of existing technologies and processes can lead to combinations and solutions that can be exploited for actual (see: working) innovation. Being a thinker and a maker are two different things. And in our industry, it’s the maker of the fully functioning product that gets the spoils.

Learning From The Inchworm


There’s a reason that personal innovation so daunting to some. The answer, quite simply, is fear. Many hesitate to travel too far outside of their comfort zone and venture off into the unknown (eg, learning new technologies). They’re nervous to take innovative risks because they simply don’t have a grasp of the underlying systems in which modern tech tools take root. But not to fear, there’s a way to get over the impasse – and we’ll call it “inching”. Here’s a simple example of inching, from the perspective of a digital creative.


Say you understand that HTML is the building block of the Internet. And that learning even basic HTML and CSS provides a certain level of understanding of how sites and applications are built. Grasping this, you get curious about building interactions and start looking at javascript such as jQuery. Then, when you’re tasked with solving a user interaction issue, you make a connection with a jQuery technique that you were previously unaware of. While jumping straight into javascript would have been like going to country that speaks a language you don’t understand, inching your way to the solution makes for a much less trying experience. This process can apply to just about anything. Being curious and learning a little about one thing at a time will increase your comfort level and lower the hurdle to the next thing.

If you are consistently mindful of this process, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your toolbox can grow. And as you continue to evolve, your skill set can become exponentially more powerful as part of a team of equally equipped partners. What you’ve learned in your area of expertise will create interesting connections with the skills of your group. A smarter, more innovative culture is born out of this – one where everyone is continually evolving and grow a collective toolbox.

5 Behaviors of Innovative Thinkers

  1. Researching | A hungry appetite for cutting-edge executions, research, and articles keeps innovative thinkers ahead of the curve. By seeing what others are doing, it’s easier to combine new techniques into innovative or never before seen solutions.
  2. Playing | Innovators are curious and comfortable playing with technologies and processes to uncover and test limitations. They don’t fear breaking things and like sharing or learning from others that are playing with the same types of processes and technologies.
  3. Tinkering | An extension of their fearless curiosity, innovators enjoy making things. While it’s one thing to simply learn about new technologies, it’s another to tinker and build something with it. This allows innovative thinkers to understand how they can push a medium or technology.
  4. Goal Setting…Or Not | Having a direction can be a good guide for the types of technologies or processes that will be most beneficial to your clients. But innovative thinkers also enjoy creating outside the confines of specific goals, boundaries, or clients. And that’s not a bad thing. When they’re tasked with a creative problem, they can make interesting connections to their previous discoveries.
  5. Understanding Your Passions | Innovation can often require intense focus. When you love what you do, the hours fly by. When you hate it, you’re almost always doomed to give up or lose focus. Innovative thinkers understand where their passions lie and make those passions their areas of expertise.


In our next part we’ll be taking a look at overcome hurdles to innovation within teams and projects. If you can’t wait download the whitepaper in it’s entirety here.

Download Overcoming Hurdles to Innovation

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