"Tracey’s Takeaways" is a new feature focusing on employee development, management issues, leadership and organizational culture.

With a changing industry and evolving member expectations comes the imperative to be adaptable and yes, you guessed it, even innovative. Is being innovative something we're inherently "wired" to be, or can we be trained to increase our personal innovation capabilities?

I recently read a short article about some research on training your brain to be more innovative. A team of researchers sought to identify the characteristics, traits and thought processes of innovative individuals and groups as well as the environments in which they exist.

The researchers concluded that, "Although it is unlikely that education can create an innovative trait in an individual, education may very well be able to improve the ability of individuals to utilize the innovative traits they possess." (Emphasis mine.) Their paper describes 14 characteristics of innovative people such as the person's capacity for abstract thought, curiosity, willingness to take risks and vision and timing.

As leaders, a big part of what we are supposed to do is to motivate and guide our teams to successful accomplishment of our organization's objectives. Yet, according to the research, innovative people tend to be more intrinsically motivated. So, what can we as managers do to extrinsically motivate our teams be more innovative?

1. It starts with being dissatisfied. The researchers said, "Innovators are dissatisfied with what exists and are always looking at what can be improved." So, what at your co-op dissatisfies you? What about your team? An easy way to start uncovering dissatisfaction is to conduct a debrief at the end of project to explore lessons learned. Let your staff know you're open to hearing their ideas for improvement.

2. Check your level of open-mindedness. Is your unofficial job title the "Killer of New Ideas"? Right, nobody wants that, but I encourage you to read this article and see if you may be inadvertently stifling creativity and motivation by demonstrating some close-minded behaviors.

3. Set barriers, preconceived notions and limiting thoughts aside by asking, "What if?" At this year's CONNECT conference, our closing session keynote was delivered by Mike Rayburn, a motivational speaker who is a comedian and talented musician. He urged that instead of negative self-talk—"We've never done that … we don't know how to do that … we don't have the resources"—ask instead, "What if?" to unlock a more positive outlook and more creative ideas. Check out his performance in the Post-Conference Media section of our CONNECT web page (cooperative.com login is required).

Tracey Steiner is NRECA's senior vice president for education and training. Her 25-year career at NRECA has spanned a variety of roles starting in communications and marketing positions then 15 years as an attorney focusing on cooperative governance and public policy issues before moving to Education & Training in 2012.