You Can Cultivate Innovation in Your Organization

When you hear the word innovation, you might think it’s something that’s supposed to pop up like a jack-in-the-box. Remember cranking the box as a child? As the music built, you’d wait with a mix of fear and expectation for the man inside to emerge with a smile.

Sometimes that’s our expectation for innovation in business. We crank along steadily with a defined work routine. We wait and watch. And we anticipate the moment when some ingenious new idea will fly up seemingly out of nowhere.

Although game-changing ideas do occasionally spring up from business as usual, more often they grow into view like plants.

When a company plants the seeds of innovation everywhere, new ideas pop up like crops all the time. Of course, a lot of the ideas die quickly. But when you set out to encourage innovation in your company, some of the ideas are bound to grow and yield good fruit.

You can cultivate innovation into the culture of your company. Here are a few ideas:

Throw an Innovation Fair

Sometimes all it takes to inspire new ideas from your employees is offering them a sounding board. So why not hold your own innovation fair?

The concept is similar to a school science fair, but instead of presenting physics or chemistry experiments, workers share project ideas with their colleagues and leaders.

One simple way to do this is to invite every department or business unit to present their most exciting new ideas at an open event. Instead of competing for ribbons, innovation fairgoers are just trying to get as many company eyeballs as possible to see their latest brainstorm. Afterwards, consider awarding time or funding to the most promising suggestions.

Not only will you see and hear business concepts you might have found in no other way, you’ll also be spurring the whole company on to maximum creativity.

Schedule Innovation

If you assume innovation is spontaneous, putting it on your company calendar might sound strange. But some of the most lucrative companies in America allow workers to devote a portion of weekly work hours to self-initiated projects and ideas. Google lets workers spend up to 20% of each workday on their own ideas. 3M has had a similar policy for years, and they credit planned innovation sessions for the development of the Post-it Note.

Seek Out and Reward the Innovative Spirit

One obstacle to innovation in a company culture is a natural tendency to look at familiar processes the same way forever. But if only one or a few top leaders are permitted to influence projects, work often stagnates.

As a leader, you are likely an innovative person yourself. So you know self-starters are valuable to your business, and you’d love to have as many of them around as possible.

But how good are you at recognizing and rewarding creative thinkers at all levels of your company? You hired them after all—why not encourage them to contribute to the strength and well-being of their employer?

You can fight the spirit of same-old-same-old by seeking out and rewarding innovation wherever you find it. One great way to do that is by asking employees for regular updates about what they’re working on, and how they’re feeling about their progress on projects. Do they see ways the process could improve? Or has their work brought to mind any new product ideas lately?

Another way to probe for innovation is to invite face-to-face dialogue about how work is going. This can happen in many ways, from strolling the halls of the office and listening to customer calls to simply asking employees.

These reports and conversations are bound to turn up some good ideas for improving your business. And when you see or hear an innovative idea, be sure to reward it with praise or compensation.

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