How to Become More Innovative

10 Habits Anyone Can Put in Place

September 11, 2023

There is a pervasive myth out there that innovation is the exclusive domain of artists, entrepreneurs, and creative types. But is it possible to cultivate innovation? Is there a hack for pastors and ministry leaders looking to become more innovative in our changing culture? Are there habits and practices that can foster innovation? 

The answer to the above questions is a resounding, “Yes!”

Anyone can innovate… and it doesn’t require flashes of creative brilliance or angelic intervention.

Anyone can innovate… and it doesn’t require flashes of creative brilliance or angelic intervention. In his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey unlocks the daily schedules of 161 creative minds. His work investigates famous artists, painters, poets, novelists, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs to learn more about their approach to creativity and, in the process, discovers there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to innovation. 

Instead, innovation is a combination of inspiration and hard work, spirit and strategy, flashes of insight and methodical research. I’ve gleaned various principles of innovation over the years and listed below are my top 10 habits and traits for how you might foster innovation in your ministry and everyday leadership.

1. Question Everything

Great innovators have the habit of curiosity. 

The other night, I put my 8-year-old daughter to bed, and she asked, “Dad, why do we go to church?” I replied, “Honey, we go to church because we love Jesus, and we want to worship him with other people.” “Yeah, I know”, she said, “But why do we need to go to a building?” 

She didn’t realize it at the time, but my youngest child was innovating. She was challenging the assumption that buildings are required for church. We continued the conversation and began to unpack the idea that church is a group of people more than a place. Her question opened a new train of thought on what it means to be the church. 

Innovative people have a knack for asking the right questions and a willingness to examine the status quo to see things from a different perspective. If you want to increase your innovation quotient, be comfortable asking questions.

2. Fall in Love with the Problem

This idea flows from the first. The process of asking questions often reveals problems we didn’t know existed. Falling in love with the problem means changing our perspective and having the eyes to see fresh opportunities in every situation. Rather than fearing problems, we should lean into them and find creative solutions. 

I was flying home from a speaking event a few weeks ago and found myself stranded at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on my way to Indianapolis. It was 2:00 am and the next flight wasn’t leaving until 5:00 pm the following day. I had already decided I would NOT be spending the night and next day in an airport. I began to brainstorm. 

Find a hotel in the city? Call a friend in Chicago? Amtrak home? Ask someone from Indy to pick me up? I mentally crossed each option off the list for one reason or another, and finally decided to find five other passengers willing to invest in an Uber XL to drive the 200 miles home. Problem solved. 

Any obstacle can be conquered with enough imagination. Learn to fall in love with the problem and you will be on your way to innovating new solutions.   

3. Expand Your Mind

The process of finding an Uber XL at 2 a.m. expanded my mind. I’m now better equipped to innovate if the same problem ever presents itself again. But new experiences are only one way to expand your mind. The same can be true of new relationships and increased information. Jesus used all three of these categories (relationships, experience, and information) to expand the minds of his disciples and help them innovate.

Creativity requires fuel, and that fuel includes gaining new knowledge through reading and studying new things. Perhaps this is also why great innovators thrive on new experiences. They love learning about foreign cultures, visiting art museums, taking walks in nature, learning to play an instrument, or anything else that expands their mind. When knowledge and experiences are combined with new networks of relationships, the mind’s ability to be flexible and understand complex ideas is enhanced.  

If you want to become more innovative, make a habit of enlarging your network of relationships, leaning into new experiences, and gathering more information.

4. Look for Patterns

Expanding the mind also means recognizing patterns. 

The world is full of interesting patterns and connections. Innovative people notice these arrangements between people and places, data and decisions. They see meaning in the order of things. The scientific term for this ability is Apophenia, the ability to perceive meaningful patterns within random data. 

When a father begins attending worship services, does the entire family follow? Is there a reason your neighbors respond to spiritual conversation over a meal, but will never attend a Bible study? What do worship attendance patterns tell you about your congregation? Why do some church plants succeed while others fail? 

Innovators have an uncanny ability to connect the dots and recognize problems before they occur. Begin to look for patterns and you will quickly find yourself one step closer to innovation.

5. Set Aside Time for Innovation

In his book Daily Rituals, Curry found that many of the greatest innovators set aside time in their daily or weekly schedule to brainstorm, meditate, and pray about new ideas. They understood that creative genius cannot be rushed and any good idea often needs to go through an incubation period before blossoming.

Innovation can also be enhanced by developing an environment that will tap into your creativity. What triggers creativity? What allows ideas to flow naturally? Is it better to set up your workspace or living space in such a way that is comforting and relaxing? Does coffee help you innovate? Do you enjoy walking outdoors where your mind is free to relax and wander, or do you prefer the energy of people and activity? 

Innovative people often structure their week with designated time to simply brainstorm, meditate, pray, and listen. Set aside specific time for innovation. 

6. Start a Book of Ideas

The other night I had a stroke of genius that came to me in a moment of inspiration. It had something to do with leading our non-profit in a new direction. It was such a good idea. Unfortunately, I never wrote it down and by the next morning, I lost it! 

The most innovative and creative people are often obsessive note takers. They have a habit of writing things down. As great as your memory might be, when an insight comes your way, it’s vital to put it in written form. I’ve also noticed creative people tend to be doodlers and list makers. Your conscious mind can only process small chunks of information at a time. 

Thomas Edison left 3,500 notebooks behind at his death. Richard Branson, one of the great innovators of our day, recently commented that his secret innovative weapon is simply a notebook and pen. 

Buy a journal and start a compendium of your ideas reviewing your notes each month or quarter. Perhaps the idea you have today will be ready for implementation sometime down the road. 

7. Start Experiments Before You’re Ready

Most innovators have a bias toward action. They often run test experiments before they have all the pieces in place.  

Anyone with a bank account knows the power of compounding interest, and innovation works much in the same way. Those who begin quickly and then make consistent, high-frequency deposits are the ones that enjoy the biggest account balances in the end. It’s proven that starting quickly and then adjusting is a much better strategy than waiting for ideal conditions or a bulletproof game plan. 

In the culinary industry, this might mean opening a test kitchen. Lawyers often conduct mock trials to test their arguments in a safe environment before making their case to a live jury. Surgeons now hone their skills using augmented reality goggles as they practice procedures on robotic patients. 

What experiments can you run to try out your new ideas? Thomas Edison once stated, “I haven’t failed. I’ve simply found 10,000 ways that do not work.”

8. Take Things Apart

Part of experimenting is taking things apart to see how they work. 

I remember as a kid taking apart my clock radio, my bike, GI Joe figures, and other toys. I also remember a time I put together a puzzle, took it apart, and then tried to accomplish the same feat with the puzzle pieces upside down (there’s probably a pathology for this condition).  

The process of deconstruction and reconstruction isn’t only with physical things. Think of the jazz musician who takes apart a song only to put it back together again through improvisation. Creative people want to understand how and why things work the way they do. 

This might mean taking apart ideas, practices, ministries, or programs of the church to examine each component and then rebuild them again differently. Innovative people don’t simply look at failures and ask, “Why isn’t this working?” They also look at successes and ask, “Why isn’t this working even better?” 

They’re willing to rock the boat to design an even better boat.

9. Go Above and Beyond

The generosity question provokes innovation. 

How might you be even more generous in what you do? How might you give more, serve more, offer more, and go above and beyond what you are currently doing? What might it look like for your church or ministry to explore the idea of radical generosity? 

Here are a few questions to stimulate thinking. What is your welcome ministry currently doing, and how could you go above and beyond to make people feel welcome? Are you serving a specific group of people in your community? How could you go above and beyond?  It’s asking the question, “What if?” and then unlocking new methods of innovation by overdelivering.

10. Follow Your Passions

Finally, the best starting point for innovation is often passion. What wakes you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? Great innovators are often powered by a conviction to make an impact and difference. 

If you’re struggling to answer this question, think back to a time you were passionate about life and ministry. What changed? How can you reclaim that sense of urgency? The most creative and innovative people are often intrinsically motivated to pursue their dreams and problems with innovation, purpose, and passion. 

Highly innovative and creative people aren’t necessarily the most talented of the bunch, but they consistently and persistently go after their goals by implementing some version of this list. 

Highly innovative and creative people aren’t necessarily the most talented of the bunch, but they consistently and persistently go after their goals by implementing some version of this list. 

Don’t think you’re very innovative? Give these 10 practices a try. 

Jon Wiest

Jon Wiest

Jon Wiest (“West”) is the Co-Founder of Mobilize the Church, a global ministry mobilizing a growing wave of disciple makers, pioneer leaders, and church planters. He previously planted churches in Dallas, TX and Des Moines, IA and is the author of Banding Together and Pioneers. Jon has degrees from Wheaton College, Wesley Seminary, and a D.Min. in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. He is a rabid San Francisco 49ers fan, loves traveling, sports, and history, and currently lives in the Indianapolis, IN area with his wife and four daughters.
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