Innovation is no longer optional. Simply put, the future of your company depends on new ideas that help you stay relevant and competitive.
That’s why companies from Google to Apple have started to incorporate innovation-friendly practices into their company culture. Plans like theirs are designed to consistently produce new ideas, ensuring their reign as some of the world’s most valuable companies.
Luckily, integrating innovation into your company culture isn’t as difficult as it may seem — provided you follow some best practices. To make it easy, we’ve compiled 5 proven ways to help ideas flow freely and consistently within your organization.
1. Create Purpose
When employees feel that their work matters, they are far more likely to be passionate and engaged. Those are important drivers for innovation as well as business metrics across the board, so it’s critical to inspire a sense of purpose in your employees.
The best way to do this is to define a clear, aspirational goal for your company. No, I’m not talking about achieving your quarterly revenue targets (although that is important). Instead, it should be something far more meaningful: think about how your business will make customers’ lives (and maybe the world!) better.
For example, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s a lofty goal — but it’s one that Google’s employees can stand behind.
A clearly stated vision will give your employees something to be passionate about and proud of.
2. Let Them Own It
Micro-management is an innovation killer. Controlling the innovation process too tightly makes it so that employees simply don’t have the room or support to think outside the box.
Managing innovation means providing just enough structure to help employees navigate uncertainty without stifling the creative process. Give employees a problem and they’ll figure out novel and efficient ways to solve it.
Not only will they learn more, but they’ll be more engaged and more likely to take risks.
It’s great to keep your team focused and committed on the company’s goals, but be flexible about how you get there. Your team may surprise you with a clever approach than you hadn\'t anticipated.
3. Embrace Failure
The mantra of world-renowned advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy is “Fail Harder.” Why? Because they know that a willingness to fail lets people take risks, think outside the box, and come up with wildly innovative ideas.
Embracing failure is actually good for innovation output. More risk-taking means more ideas, more disclosures, more patents, and ultimately a more competitive business.
And when someone does “fail,” they can welcome it as a learning experience rather than chalking it up as a loss. It famously took Sir James Dyson 5,127 failed attempts before perfecting his DCO1 Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner and now his company is valued at well over a billion dollars!
By letting your employees learn from their “failures,” you can end up with wildly profitable products and services.
4. Mix Things Up
When you’re building project teams, aim for diversity.
A room full of people with the same expertise will frequently arrive at the same solution, but when you bring in people from different backgrounds, each will tackle the problem from their own unique perspective.
This can result in an extremely fruitful, collaborative environment, where everyone in the group can learn from one another. By pushing each other to think in new ways, the group will be more likely to discuss and experiment, combining their different ideas into one unique, considered-from-all-sides solution.
5. Give It Time
If your employees are too busy putting out fires or focusing on short-term targets, they likely won’t have the time or headspace to think about the next big innovation. That’s why several innovative companies have begun to give their employees free time to experiment with new ideas.
Atlassian gives its employees what they call “Fed Ex days.” Employees receive paid days off to work on any problem they want — with the catch that they must deliver something of value 24 hours later.
Google asks its employees to spend one day a week working on projects outside of their usual job description to encourage innovation.
3M gives its employees 10% free time to experiment with new ideas.
And at Intuit, they give their top innovators three months of unstructured time that can be used in one big chunk or spread out over six months.
The thought behind all of these policies is the same: great ideas come with the time and space to pursue them. So if your employees are too bogged down in the present, consider giving them a little space to be forward-thinking and creative. Who knows? It might result in your company’s next big idea.
Don’t Wait; Innovate
With innovation critical to sustaining your company’s long-term success, now is a great time for you to start thinking about integrating it seamlessly into your culture.
Once a culture of innovation is in place, fresh ideas become the norm, risk taking becomes second nature, and continued success becomes inevitable. It’s the perfect recipe for building an agile, forward-thinking company.
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Founder & CEO, Innovation Asset Group, Inc.