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Think innovation happens in a vacuum? Think again! The best ideas require out-of-the-box thinking, yes, but sometimes they also take inspiration — or maybe just an encouraging word at a critical moment. If you’re a leader in the workplace or anywhere else, look at these eight suggestions for enabling higher levels of innovation from your team.
1. Set Time Aside for Innovation
Believe it or not, some of the biggest companies in the world make a point of building unstructured exploration and innovation time into their regular schedules. At Google, for example, this free time — called “20 percent time” because it’s a full 20 percent of employees’ time on campus — resulted in the creation of Google Earth and Gmail. The 3M company has had its own “15 percent time” for years as well. What’s the most famous product to come out of this time? The all-powerful Post-It note.
2. Encourage and Increase Dialogue
We’ve all done time working for companies that don’t value communication. And that’s a shame, because some types of communication are positively essential when it comes to fostering innovation. The word “dialogue” sounds like just another synonym for “talking,” but it’s more than that. The root of the word comes from the Greek for “flow of meaning.” Leaders are in a unique position to build an environment where employees can speak freely with one another and with leadership. The more ideas that get thrown around, the more likely you are to hit upon a winner.
3. Relinquish Some of Your “Ownership”
There can be a strong desire among leaders to feel a certain ownership over progress within the company. Some leaders even stifle dialogue and potential change in the name of the status quo. Among executives, 84 percent indicate innovation is critical for growth. And yet, just 6 percent say they’re satisfied with the rate and quality of innovation. This disparity is, potentially, because they’re too close to the issue and don’t want things to stray too far from their vision, or they have too “fixed” an idea of what progress can look like.
4. Have a Vision for the Future
Most of the points we’re talking about here focus on encouraging a more free-form, expressive and experimental workplace. But this isn’t to say leaders should be flying entirely by the seat of their pants. Here’s the question: What’s innovation for? Mostly, it’s about solving problems — even ones we didn’t know about beforehand — and improving our circumstances. So what issues are you resolving with all this human capital? What’s the point?
Leaders shouldn’t be overly precious about their goals for their future of the company, but they should set some milestones. Providing a rough roadmap doesn’t stifle creativity — but it can gently guide it toward a desired general outcome, even if the innovation part happens in the finer details.
5. Compromise on Scheduling
How many studies will researchers publish about the needs of the pre-adolescent brain before we shift our school start times to later in the day? Nobody does their best work when they’re exhausted.
The same goes for the workplace: Employees who are overly anxious about their work-life balance, regularly exhausted due to long hours and overtime or struggling in another way, are probably not the ones who’ll bring the next big idea to the table. To the extent that you can, make an effort to meet your team members halfway when it comes to scheduling. A satisfied, rested and refreshed employee is an employee who brings their A-game.
6. Put Trust Over Group think
Trust is one of the most important currencies in the modern workplace. But it’s about more than feeling confident your team members will do the “right thing” in matters of ethics. Trust is also about leaders finding the confidence to let their people be themselves. There’s a choice to make when an employee’s thinking or practices start to diverge from business as usual. We can use force to course-correct, or we can trust their motivation comes from a wholesome place. When you let people be themselves at work, instead of enforcing groupthink, that’s when the ideas truly begin to fly.
7. Become a Better Listener
As Mark Twain pointed out, humans have two ears and just one tongue, so we should do more listening than speaking. So why’s this important? Because not every idea arrives fully formed. For example, there will probably be lots of times where, if you’re actively listening to your team, you’ll hear specific hints. Maybe it’s dissatisfaction with company standards, or maybe there’s another barrier to progress your employees are stumbling over, but don’t quite know how to bring to your attention. Becoming a mindful listener means you’ll be better able to pick up on innovative opportunities, or barriers to progress, that might’ve flown under your radar.
8. Pursue an Acquisition or Collaboration
Sometimes, the best shot in the arm for innovation comes from an infusion of new talent. Maybe it’s a branding collaboration or even a full-blown acquisition. Co-branding between Nike and the Apple Watch yielded the Nike Run Club. And when Sherwin-Williams and Pottery Barn put their heads together, they came up with a whole new family of colors and a selection of original decorations and furnishings to accompany them. The point is, sometimes the intersection of two great ideas, or two great companies, can yield something unexpected and wonderful.
With these tools and ideas at your disposal, you might be ready to turn your workplace into an innovation powerhouse.
January 8, 2019 at 12:10PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs