This article first appeared in the Executive Secretary Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.
Look at your smartphone. It probably has all of the latest bells and whistles. It can text or call anyone with a simple voice command. It has apps for fun, productivity, connectivity, and more! And it can now search for information based on a single image. It’s a fantastic tool.
But your last phone was fantastic, too — in its time, at least. That’s why you bought it, right? So why did you give it up?
The answer: Innovation. New and better technology came along, and you embraced it, because you knew it would better suit your needs. And the same concept applies to your career. If you aren’t consistently striving to improve upon the status quo, you’ll quickly find yourself out-of-date and at risk of replacement.
As an administrative assistant, your executive is counting on you to be The Innovative Admin™. But what does that mean, and what steps should you take to ensure that you — like your previous smartphone — aren’t at risk of becoming obsolete?
What is Innovation?
There are plenty of people who confuse innovation with creativity. However, there is one very substantial difference between the two. Creativity is an idea — perhaps an amazing, life-changing one — but an idea just the same.
Innovation, however, is the implementation of that idea. And the key to innovation is implementation!
This quote from Theodore Levitt, economist and professor at Harvard, sums it up the best, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” In other words…implementing.
Who is The Innovative Admin?
The Innovative Admin is an administrative professional who introduces, creates, or applies new or refreshed ideas or methods of doing things to the office environment. This is someone who is actively doing, seeking, and implementing, not someone who is simply coming up with ideas or maintaining the status quo. It’s more than simply generating creative ideas; it’s the implementation of ideas that add value for your team members and customers.
What Makes You Innovative?
Let’s assume that you support a team that has multiple projects in progress. They don’t have a dedicated project manager, nor do they have a good system for tracking their timeline and deliverables. They have many recurring project issues because of this.
A creative admin brainstorms ways to help them. The Innovative Admin takes it a step further, not just thinking of ways to help, but actually implementing specific systems and measures to solve the problem.
For instance, the creative admin thinks, “If I could get the team to invite me to the meetings and assist with tracking things more carefully, this problem might be solved!”
Whereas The Innovative Admin thinks, “I know my team needs help. So I am going to setup one of their projects using a project management application I recently tested, and ask to be invited to their next project meeting so I can show them where many of the roadblocks and bottlenecks they are facing could be alleviated.” The Innovative Admin then maps out the system, tests it, and presents it to the team for consideration and feedback.
This is innovation at work — brainstorming solutions, and then going above and beyond to actually apply those solutions to real-world problems!
Innovation = Relevancy
Let’s go back to the smartphone analogy. There’s a reason you upgraded from your previous phone to your current phone. But what if you were forever stuck with your first-ever phone? The flip phone that could make a call — sometimes, depending on your network — and didn’t do much else? Would you be happy with that?
The same principle applies to your admin career. Sure, when you started at your job, you were up to date on all the newest software — but have you advanced your skills since then? Today’s executive needs a go-getter — someone who is ready, willing, and able to adapt to the changing trends and take the steps necessary to be a trendsetter themselves!
The more innovative you are in your career, the more relevant you will be.
Why Your Executive Needs The Innovative Admin
As an admin, your job is to support your executive in any way possible — and many times, that means going outside of your basic job description. Your executive needs you to:
- See problems and find and propose solutions. It’s not enough to say, “The system is broken.” You need to say, “The system is broken, and here is what I believe we can do to fix it.”
- Find better, more efficient ways of doing things. Don’t wait for your executive to ask if you have any ideas for improvement – bring your ideas to them! Suggesting new and improved ways to do things can seem awkward at first; however, your executive isn’t going to see it as stepping on toes. They’re going to see it as a testament to your dedication and relevancy.
- Help them think through things and share your insights and perspective. Don’t leave your executive stewing at their desk over a problem. Jump in and brainstorm with them. Every executive needs a team player and someone to bounce ideas around with!
- Take initiative. Don’t wait for permission to implement innovative ideas. If there is a better way of doing something or a problem that needs to be solved, it’s your job to take the lead.
- Do your research. If your executive struggles to grasp certain concepts, do what you can to help shorten their learning curve. That may mean offering a crash course on a software program, creating a procedure to help them through the specific steps of a troublesome task, or figuratively holding their hand as they learn to navigate the waters of social media or a new operating system.
- Make their job easier. If you see your executive doing something that you could be doing yourself, tell them — because you can be certain that there’s something more profitable they could be doing, instead.
The Innovative Admin makes it their job to instinctively know what their executive needs, often even before their executive knows it themselves.
Choose the Innovation Mindset
To become more innovative, you must choose the innovation mindset.
In her book Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck identified two mindsets that prevail: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Dr. Dweck defines them like this:
The fixed mindset believes that your intelligence is static, your qualities are carved in stone, and it creates an urgency for you to prove yourself over and over. The fixed mindset leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to avoid challenges, get defensive and give up easily when obstacles appear, see effort as fruitless, ignore useful negative feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result, the person with this mindset may plateau early and achieve less than his or her full potential.
The growth mindset, however, believes the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. Intelligence can be developed which leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, use effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. As a result, they reach ever-higher levels of achievement. It’s based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every way — in talents, personality, aptitudes, interests, temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
In my book, The Innovative Admin, I refer to these two mindsets as the status quo (fixed) mindset and the innovation (growth) mindset. If you want more than just momentary blips of innovation to permeate your thoughts, you have to identify what’s holding you back and remove it. The first place to evaluate is your mindset. Do you have a status quo mindset or an innovation mindset?
The Innovative Admin not only looks out for their executive’s and company’s future, but for their own, as well. At any moment, each one of us is just one business decision away from having the rug ripped out from under us. Those who embrace the innovation mindset and regularly engage in activities that stretch them, expand their network, expose them to new methods and practices, continually engage in learning, exercise initiative, and tackle technology today will be prepared to course correct more quickly and successfully if and when a business decision turns their world upside down.
In the end, it all comes down to relevancy. Technology, best practices, and business needs are changing every day. Just as your company needs to stay on the cutting edge, so do you!
If you choose not to embrace the innovation mindset, you risk going the way of the mimeograph and the typewriter — extinct, defunct, outdated, and a casualty of progress. If you choose to embrace the innovation mindset, the world is your oyster! So what’s your bright idea? It’s time to implement it!
This article first appeared in Executive Secretary Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at www.executivesecretary.com to find out more or to get your 30% discount email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them we sent you.