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Innovation doesn't need to be "scary." What costume creation taught me along the way...

Full confession: my favourite “holiday” is Halloween. As a kid I think I was entirely motivated by a sugar addiction, but in later years this morphed into a creative costume designer for my kids—who just happen to love super OBSCURE characters. Have you ever heard of a VEGIMAL? Only hard-core Octonauts fans know of what I speak.

But as I reflect on over a decade of creative Halloween costume design as a mom, it got me thinking about the parallels with developing innovation. So here’s my top five…

1) Sometimes it’s about using the box versus thinking “outside of it.” One of the greatest lessons I learned over the years in innovation is about setting the parameters of a project or “the box” if you will. Contrary to popular belief, some of the most creative solutions arise when you provide clear constraints and parameters for people to work in—be it budget, function and/or timeline.

Personally one of the costumes I’m most proud of making for my kiddos was Thomas the Tank Engine and Hiro of the Rails. Both were constructed from Huggies diaper boxes and absolutely delighted my two and four-year-old boys.

2) Trial, errors and adjustments. A few years back my middle son decided he HAD to BE R2D2 for Halloween. How could I possibly swing this??? Achieving the shape alone was, in my mind, going to be an impossible feat. I tried cardboard which was clearly not going to be sturdy enough, and how was I going to create a dome at the top? How would he see? There were dozens of questions I needed to ask and answer.

Like my R2D2 challenge, solving for real-world problems is no easy task. It requires that you ask the right questions, that you’re prepared to adjust and that you’re not deterred when things don’t work out according to plan. Sometimes you have to tweak, other times, you need to go back to that drawing board, erase what you planned and start from scratch. It’s just part of the process. Accepting this will help ensure you don’t spend precious time on a solution that is clearly going down the wrong path…

As it turned out, an Ikea laundry basket covered by some vegan leather turned out to be the perfect body base. And the dome head? A bike helmet, some construction straws, cardboard and tin foil resulted in a pretty cool R2D2 hat.

3) Staying focused on the goal. Over the years I may have pulled one or two (or 10) all-nighters to complete costumes in time. There may even have been some wine involved sometimes. Often I could be heard muttering under my breath, “next year we’re buying a damn costume!”

Building something from the ground up is HARD WORK. It will test your patience, challenge your confidence and sometimes make you question whether it’s all worth it. There were always moments of stress and fears the work wasn’t going to get done in time. Two years ago, my son and I got into a giant argument just before he left the house in costume for school. He was worried his “headless man holding a jar with his head in it” costume wasn’t effective enough. Any fears about this, however, were eliminated when a group of moms standing on the corner (who had just dropped their kids off at school) began applauding.

Not every solution you develop will get you a standing ovation, far from it. But if you’ve engaged your target group, listened, adjusted and stayed focused on your end goal, trust that people will notice—even if the solution isn’t quite to your standard of “perfection.”

4) Look around for existing solutions to make better. That headless man costume? Entirely discovered on Youtube. Not every solution has to be 100 per cent original. In fact, I’d argue that nothing is 100 per cent original. Jeff Bezos didn’t invent online shopping, Elon Musk didn’t invent the electric car and heck, Alexander Graham Bell didn’t even invent the telephone!

Innovation is a combination of creative solutioning (usually taking something that already exists and enhancing it or applying it in a different way) and the confidence to put it in front of your target audience (even when you feel it’s not ready) to see what happens.

5) Engage others in the process. A lot has changed since those early years with the diaper boxes. One of the most important lessons? Forget going it alone. As my kids grew older, I realized doing everything myself was super taxing on me, and less fun for the kiddos. My solution was to get them involved in the process, capitalize on their skills and capture their feedback.

When my oldest decided he wanted to a Rabbid Invasion Rabbit, and my youngest, Cartoon Cat (all obscure I know!!!) I enlisted their help in the glue gunning (my favourite Halloween tool). My oldest, who is a way better artist than me, has helped out with design, makeup and “eye drawing” in the past. Along the way I’ve also had support from my mom (from whom I learned the art of the homemade costume), neighbours, friends and babysitters.

It sometimes takes a village to create a great costume just as it takes tools, elbow grease, insights and feedback to develop and try out that Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and get it from “meh” to “good enough” to “YES!”

Though a couple of friends have suggested I start a costume business, I fully recognize that based on the average number of hours I’ve put in over the years, it’s not a sustainable gig. 😉If, however, you’re looking to bring your village together to clearly define your burning business problem, brainstorm ideas, and develop that MVP to test, refine and test again, I’m the goblin to do it. I promise also to take the spookiness out of the process!



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