Innovation and technology go hand in hand: Innovation drives new technology, and technology, in turn, helps to further innovation. Ironically, many IT departments -- the hubs of technology in their businesses -- do not maintain work environments that are conducive to innovation in tech.
As the "Robert Half Technology 2014 Salary Guide" notes, "innovation is the lifeblood of nearly every business ... [and] the work of technology professionals gives rise to day-to-day improvements, both obvious and subtle, that enrich our lives." But navigating everyday workplace challenges -- from demanding customers to "fire drill" projects to office politics -- leaves the typical IT professional with little time or support to formulate new ideas, explore new technologies and develop new work approaches.
This is unfortunate for both tech workers and their employers. Most IT professionals thrive on challenges and may be inclined to part ways with a company if they don't find their jobs stimulating. When they do leave, organizations are at a disadvantage not only because skilled IT workers are hard to find, but also because potential value creators for the business are lost.
If your IT department feels like an innovation dead zone, here are a few things you can do as an employee to help open the door to fresh thinking. Remember, if you take a creative approach with your work, those around you will be more likely to do the same.
Question the status quo. Most high-performing IT departments have a startup mind-set, even if they're part of a well-established company. Their IT teams are always rethinking old processes and asking questions such as "Why are we doing things this way?" and "What if we took an entirely different approach to this problem?"
If you want to help promote change in your IT department, start raising these types of questions when opportunities arise. Use tact, of course. Your colleagues, especially your boss, may not initially embrace being challenged.
Initiate a brainstorming session. Next time a perplexing IT problem has you stumped, or you're searching for a better way to accomplish a routine task, invite your teammates to engage in a brainstorming session with you. To help make new idea generation an ongoing process in your department, suggest to your boss that a few minutes be set aside at the end of regular staff meetings for brainstorming about ways to solve issues and improve processes.
Keep an eye toward the outside. While staying up-to-date with technology used by your organization is essential to doing your job well, don't lose sight of what's happening outside of the company. Many disruptive technology trends that help to inspire innovative ways of working emerge from the consumer side (hello, smartphones and social apps).
Stay on top of developments in technology and business by leveraging technology itself: Use tools such as Bing or Google news alerts that will notify you of new online content you should read, based on specific filtering preferences you've set.
Seize learning opportunities. You need a solid knowledge base to serve as a springboard for new ideas, especially when it comes to technology. Be quick to sign up for training, workshops and seminars -- especially those that your company hosts or offers to help pay for. Educational opportunities will allow you to grow your expertise and gain new skills that ultimately can create value for your organization -- and, possibly, advance your career.
Relationships are important to fueling innovative thinking, too. So, don't spend all your time hanging out in the server room or staring at a computer screen. Get to know your colleagues inside and outside of the IT organization, and always be looking for opportunities to collaborate and share best practices in person. You'll likely find their insights and perspectives will help to inform your work and fuel new ideas.