Innovate or die
Dr Amantha Imber is an innovation psychologist, best-selling author, and founder of Australia’s leading innovation consultancy Inventium. Inventium has been recognised as one of Australia’s fastest growing companies in the BRW Fast 100 list, and was also awarded the BRW Client Choice Award for Best Management Consultancy in Australia. In 2016, Amantha was inducted into the Australian Business Women’s Hall of Fame.
With a PhD in organisational psychology, Amantha has helped companies such as Google, Coca-Cola, Disney, LEGO, Red Bull, American Express, Virgin Australia, Commonwealth Bank and many others innovate more successfully. Amantha was a finalist in the 2015 Telstra Business Women of the Year awards.
Amantha is the co-creator of the Australian Financial Review’s Most Innovative Companies list, an annual list that Inventium compiles, ranking Australia's top innovators. Her thoughts have appeared in Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and Fast Company and she is the author of two best-selling books: “The Creativity Formula” and “The Innovation Formula”.
“This too will pass” Amantha Imber.
I always knew I wanted to be a psychologist, growing up with a mother who was a clinical psychiatrist. I was interested in understanding why people do what they do and wanted to be able to help people in a meaningful way. After finishing school, I went onto a 7-year sentence at Monash University, finishing with a PhD in organisational psychology. At the tail end of finishing my PhD I became really interested in the area of consumer behaviour psychology as a field, at around the same time there was an advertising firm in Melbourne looking for a consumer researcher so I applied for that position and miraculously got it, despite never having worked in advertising previously. That led to 5 years of working in the advertising industry as a consumer psychologist, but I found that ethically I began to struggle and at the end of the 5 years I felt like I had hit my use by date and was no longer getting any joy out of it. The brands I worked for were household names, I had to ask myself do I really want to use my knowledge of psychology to manipulate people into buying and eating chocolate bars or do I want to use it for good?
I was looking for a position where I could do something more meaningful, but after attending a few interviews I couldn’t find anything that would be a good mix between my knowledge, my IP experience and the company’s culture. A few friends suggested that I do my own thing, so the idea for Inventium came from my passion for innovation and from the science geek side of my personality. I have always been quite frustrated that there has always been this great knowledge and research that has always been trapped within the realms of academia, I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to take a scientific approach to innovation and to actually help people apply these great research findings in a practical way.
Partnership with Financial Review
I have had a partnership with Fairfax for the last 5 years, I noticed through conversation with a client of mine that there was really no cross national recognition of companies who were doing great innovation work, there were things within different industries but not something that applied across all industries. I knew a journalist who worked for BRW at the time and I was having a coffee with them, saying what do you think of this idea for an innovation list, she ran it by her editor Kate Mills, who then met with me and ran it. Last year we changed the partnership to Financial Review to publish the list, and in about 6 weeks we will be calling for nominations for the 2017 list. Registration will open on the 1st of March, the only criteria being that you must employ more than 30 employees and that you have existed as an organisation for more than two years.
The move towards innovation
I have noticed a clear shift in the last 10 years, the question being asked by organisations now is how do we innovate as opposed to should we innovate? It has become accepted as reality that you innovate or die, that you disrupt or you become disrupted. Companies are now taking innovation much more seriously, which has been great for Inventium where we have seen a huge increase in demand.
We know from 100s if not 1000s of research papers that have been published worldwide, the ability to think creatively is something that is malleable and changeable, it is about having the knowledge of the tools, the stimulus and the environments that have been known to aid the ability to be creative. There is research that shows that if you believe yourself to be a more creative person, you will come up with more creative solutions, so you are really doing yourself a disfavour if you are telling yourself that you are not a creative person.
The focus of my first book, The Creative Formula, was to unpack really simple scientifically proven ways of increasing your creativity, things as simple as exposing yourself to the natural environment by going for a walk in the park or exercising for 30 minutes. These are things accessible to everyone, including those who do not consider themselves to be creative. There are a variety of techniques in the book as I do not think that there is one technique that works for everybody, I think it is about finding what works for you, which is why I have included such a vast range.
Our unconscious mind is a very powerful problem solver, when we set ourselves a problem to solve and then forget about it, our unconscious mind works at solving the problem without us noticing. It then brings these ideas to our subconscious at the most opportune times, when we are in the shower, on the toilet or at 3 am in the morning. What we say to our clients is its important to always have something on you to record these ideas, whether you are typing them on the phone or you are sleeping with a notebook next to your bed. We as humans overestimate our ability to remember good ideas.
Talking at Tedx
I have done a few Tedx conventions, it is such a huge honour to be involved. It is also a huge challenge to identify that one idea that I think is worth sharing with everyone which I can divulge in 18 minutes, generally the most watched talks now are only 10 minutes long.
International record deal
When I was doing my PhD, I was looking for different things to do, I was writing a lot of music as a singer/songwriter/guitarist and put together a demo as something fun to do. Naively, I sent it out to 10 labels that I had heard of, and then 2 weeks later one called me back and wanted to do a deal. I ended up walking away from it as my decision at the time had to be a choice between being a full-time musician and finishing my PhD and becoming a psychologist, I was just more passionate about psychology.
Advice to self
In my 20’s and 30’s the advice I would have given myself would have been to back myself more, I am very familiar with the concept of ‘imposter’ syndrome which is a much more mainstream concept now but in my 20’s I don’t think many people were talking about it. I felt like an imposter in most things I was doing, when I was accepted in the doctorate program for clinical psychology I was sure that admin had made a mistake and accidentally let me in or when working in advertising I questioned why I was in a senior role. I just needed to back myself more.
In terms of personal work habits, I am very much a time optimiser in that I am efficient and quick at doing things. I am always looking for a more efficient way of doing things as time is the one thing that is constant, that is the same for all of us, if I can make more out of the time I have got then I am going to have more of an impact. Simple things like removing the Facebook app off my phone, so I was no longer spending 20 to 30 minutes a day reading irrelevant material, and now spend maybe 10 minutes on Facebook a week. I love the app Pocket, there is a plug in for your browser and for any articles that you have found but that you don’t have time to read at that moment, if I am waiting in line for a coffee or brushing my teeth I can now read these articles that I have saved.
Late last year I started an experiment where I don’t check emails until lunchtime, it was a habit that lots of people who I respected had and I thought there must be something in it. I am very much a morning person, I am up at 5.30 am each day and found if I was checking my emails first thing in the day then I was already on the back-foot, I had already become reactive instead of proactive. I now have a plan of what I want to achieve in the morning, and don’t check my emails until lunch.
It is about knowing what the projects are that I am working on that are most important for Inventium, for example in 6 weeks we are launching a product that essentially takes our most popular training program and puts that online in an engaging way, different from your standard online training programs. One of the most important things for me to be doing at the moment is to be creating content for this and most mornings I am doing something that is going to contribute to that product. I am obsessive with my to-do list, I use To Do List and am checking it and adding to it multiple times a day.
Like most people, I also use Evernote as I much prefer digital notes as everything is searchable, I also use Newton for my emails as it has great keyboard shortcuts. I love a good app.
I am not a big quote person but a quote that will often come into my mind when something extreme happens, whether that be extremely good or extremely bad, and that is the quote ‘that this too will pass’. I find it a very reassuring quote when things are really hard going, to remind myself that no matter how hard things are it is guaranteed that they will pass. Also with the good things that happen it reminds me to savour the really good moments when you are in the zone and everything is flowing, it helps me to stay in the present.
I currently have two books out, the first being The Creative Formula which I mentioned earlier, which contains 50 scientifically proven ways to boost your creativity. The other is The Innovation Formula which came out last year, this looks at the science behind creating a culture where creativity really thrives. I wrote that one because I feel I get asked regularly how you create a culture of inspiration, so many people have written articles or blogs where what they are saying is just so untrue, where there is no science behind it. My focus was on the science which can provide very specific things that you need to create a culture where innovation really thrives.
One of my favourite books that I have read is by Clayton Christensen, called How will you measure your life? It takes all of his business and innovation theories and actually applies them to the ethical, moral and general life choices that you make. I found it a powerful read, it is also a great read for those who want to learn more about his theories.
If you want to know more about innovation or you want to become a more innovative thinker, Inventium can help you with that. Whether you are a freelancer or a corporate and you want to learn the tools for more creative thinking or applying innovative initiatives, search Inventium on the internet and you can contact us on the website. I am also on twitter on @amantha.