If a company is not constantly evolving, then it is a matter of time until it meets the end. Fostering innovation can be tricky for most, but it is doable. There are many schools of thought on how to achieve that.
But for innovation to happen, first we have to agree on what is innovation. Today this is becoming a buzz-word and it is used for almost anything and everything. There are even deodorants that spray the contents in an “innovative way”. So what is innovation really? It is not only something new or something done in a new way. It is something that disrupts the current ways of doing the said thing.
Innovation is finding a new purpose for an existing thing. As a crude example – a table can also be used as a place to sit on. Obviously not all innovative ideas are good. It would be hard to think of a selling reason why it is better to sit on the table and not on the chair next to it. But even a bad innovative idea can lead to a good one – why not use the table not only for a place to eat, but as a place to work, too? This is why it is important to foster a culture of innovation in your company and never dismiss an idea just because it doesn’t work at first glance.
Sometimes innovations can be born out of existing ideas. For example Facebook. It completely changed the way we think of communicating online even though the concept of using online platforms for communication was present long before Facebook was even conceived. So, in the end innovation can be found everywhere. But how to foster it?
There are many ways and ultimately it depends on the type of people and the company culture. But there are some universal aspects that are “must haves” for all companies. The first one is to lead by example. Don’t just say “we are innovative” or “we cherish innovative people”, but actually be innovative yourself. Be proactive with ideas that you put up for discussion. Also always listen, check out and discuss other’s ideas no matter how crazy they may seem or that you may be convinced they are rubbish. If you turn people down, they won’t feel motivated to share future ideas and you will miss out on the big one. So, yes, you may lose some time and effort in validating that an idea is rubbish, but you will show people you care and are open to all possibilities which is key.
This will also show that you are open to collaboration. This is essential to build a great team as it can make people more comfortable with each other, they will work easier together and will expect to share ideas.
Since innovation means throwing out 99% of the ideas after they have been checked out, it may seem your team is very ineffective and burns through resources with no added value. This will be prime ground for skeptics and critics who would rush to say “clever things”. You will have to have the strength to stand up to them, even when you don’t have the results to show you are on the right course. Stick to your plan and don’t deviate from it simply because of a critic unless that critic has some very well substantiated points that after checking out seem like a good fit to your concept. But someone simply saying “this is pointless” is no reason to even feel bad, let alone questioning your plans and goals. Instead be happy and proud your team is willing to go out of its comfort zone as this is exactly where innovation is “hiding”.
Image credit: Flickr (CC) / Boegh