It is hard to imagine that in the early phase of the 20th century the word innovation had negative connotations, signifying excessive novelty without purpose or end. In the year 2016 the concept of innovation is as ubiquitous as it is sought-after. Innovation is such a prized concept that it has become a recruitment must-have with resumes and LinkedIn profiles scoured for keywords, projects and descriptions denoting innovative efforts. Increasingly innovation is incorporated into onboarding processes encouraging new hires to come up with concepts that generate growth. Innovation has become everybody’s job in the modern workplace.
But despite all the talk surrounding innovation the question now is how to actually support a culture of constant innovation? Here are 6 ways that you can transform your team into innovators:
1. Have an easy-going workplace culture
The quickest way to stifle new ideas and innovation is to create a negative workplace culture. Undue stress, constant busyness and fear of failure are some of the causes for creative dry-spells. In order to cultivate innovation, you need to set the conditions so employees feel they have space to breathe, create and even make mistakes without fear of excessive punishment. Strict working hours do not suit everyone, be flexible about time and allow your staff to work in a way that suits them.
2. Hire for an innovative culture
Hire team members who are excited about your company and its services or product. That is the number one most important thing. If your staff feel connected to your brand then you are more likely to see them want to solve creative problems and engage positively with clients. Part of ensuring a positive workplace culture is in hiring people who help encourage that culture, by bringing energy, enthusiasm and a critical eye to your company. Yes, that does not mean you should hire ‘yes’ men or women, but people that feel passionate enough about their jobs to actually push against management sometimes. Disruptive innovation is all about jumping on opportunities at the right time rather than doing what is a safe, good idea. Hire people who will challenge and compliment your business.
3. Encourage diversity
Part of hiring for culture is also hiring for diversity. As we wrote about in Achieve Better Brainstorming, creativity is best achieved when seemingly disparate groups constantly and unexpectedly collide with one another. This was first observed at Building 20 in MIT and subsequently replicated by Steve Job’s in his design of the Pixar campus. Why are these spaces so creative; because new ideas from different faculties, studios and cultures are constantly interacting, challenging and enhancing pre-conceived ideas. While it might seem more productive to have a workplace where everyone agrees with one another, a little bit of healthy debate actually sparks far more innovative ideas.
4. Make holiday time and ‘fun’ mandatory
Enhancing your human capital is the most sure-fire way of enhancing your company’s innovative capacity. If your team members are burnt out, their ability to think outside of the box diminishes. What you as an employer make up in hours clocked, you will loose in creativity and innovation. Make holiday time mandatory and encourage open conversations about how your employees are coping with workloads and stress. As a team leader you have to encourage your team to leave work at work. That means that you leave at the assigned time and don’t answer emails outside of working hours. Regular, fun team building exercises are a great way of enhancing your teams creative thinking and teamwork qualities, all the while having fun. We have several team building games designed to develop in-house innovation.
5. Have an avenue for in-house innovation
Once you have hired for innovation and assembled a diverse, creative team it is time to organize avenues for those ideas to become realities. Dr Amantha Imber, from Inventium an innovation consultancy company, questions each company’s strategy for dealing with internal innovation:
“If I was to come on board next week and I had a great idea, what would I do with that idea? If there is not a really clear and consistent answer as to what I should do with that idea, it suggests that the company lacks a clear and effective innovation process.”
You have to nurture in-house innovation rather than just stating it in your mission statement. That involves actually creating programs within your company that support internal innovation. For example Pernod Ricard Winemakers developed a creative leadership program called Think: Creative Leadership Lab. The sessions used real business challenges and came up with five new ideas as a result, making their business more competitive than before.
6. Use external relationships for your company’s innovation.
Not all innovation needs to be developed internally. External partnerships generate some truly game-changing innovations that benefit all parties. The trouble is of course, that two or more companies have different ways of working that can cause more than a few headaches. Jason P Davis from INSEAD states that the best way to collaborate for innovation is to practice group ‘cycling’:
“Group cycling employs consecutive collaborative pairings among the three partners. In this way, participants get the best of both worlds: relative independence from third party interference without the isolation and opacity of parallel twosomes. By feeding the outcome of each newly-completed collaboration into the next one, the three partners were assured a continual flow of fresh ideas – which may otherwise have been lost in micromanagement and infighting.”
Make innovation more than just a buzzword
The first step to cultivating innovation for your company is to actually develop strategies and programs for it, not just talk about it. Present the issues that need solving to the whole company and see what ideas come back.Once you are presented with a good idea it’s time to act on it and keep your company changing and growing constantly.