The majority of the entrepreneurs have innovation on their minds. In most cases, businesses are set up because someone has an idea that brings to the world something completely new or a better way of doing something. And in most cases, it works. I have seen innovative ideas become successful small businesses. And I have also seen existing small businesses that used innovation to stay ahead of the game and stay competitive.
However, it is extremely important to make innovation and creativity an inherent part of your company culture, even when your business is in its nascent stages. In any business, traits like innovation and creativity have to be encouraged and nurtured over time.
It is not possible to gather your employees into a conference one morning and ask them to be innovative. To truly tap into the innovative potential of your employees, the first step starts with you, the owner. You have to ensure that the conditions for creative thinking and experimenting are put in place.
Empower your employees
A large part of thinking creatively comes from the freedom to do so. If your employees have to take permission or approval even for the smallest of things, they would have no incentive to try new things. It engenders a feeling among them that any deviation from the status quo is frowned upon. What’s more, it does not encourage ownership of responsibilities among employees.
However, giving employees the power to make decisions at their level will foster a culture of constant innovation as employees try to improve processes or products. When you empower your employees, you demonstrate your trust in them. And in most cases, this trust is a great motivator for the employee to push him or herself to do better.
Encourage open communication
Most businesses have a top-down approach to management and innovation. However, the first rule of creative business thinking is that it can come from anywhere. In my experience, I have often found that great ideas come from relative freshers, or from employees who have may not even be in the relevant department.
If your company has channels of communication where employees can share their ideas without fear of rebuke or ridicule, chances are that you will see a constant stream of great ideas coming into the business.
Eliminate fear of failure
Creative thinking does not always lead to path-breaking innovation. Successful innovations are built on the foundation of learnings gathered from failures along the way. Employees have to know that they will not be penalized if their ideas do not work out. Otherwise, the fear of negative repercussions will not only stifle their creativity but will also discourage employees from coming forward with any ideas whatsoever.
Diversify your talent pool
If you hire the same kind of people across your organization, the chances of new ideas are naturally reduced. Ideas from different kinds of people, with different mentalities and skillsets, will spark and feed off each other to take better shape. These differing approaches can help make an innovative idea more robust and comprehensive.
Factor in thinking time
An employee who is thinking about nothing but their present work responsibilities or operations does not have the mind space to think about anything else. Creativity needs both the free mind and the free time to blossom and amount to something concrete. Build this ‘thinking time’ into the employees’ workday or workweek, rather than expect employees to do this on their own time.
For instance, Intuit’s unstructured time is a well-known model where employees spend 10 percent on innovation or projects not related to core business tasks. This gives our employees some time to explore their areas of passion to drive growth and come up with some ingenious ideas!
Change the stage
Taking your employees out of their usual setting can be a good trigger to start then thinking differently. Offsite sessions for brainstorming or coming up with new ideas work for a variety of reasons. For one, the lack of distraction.
Even if you are able to shut everyone into a conference room, the participants’ minds will be on the work that they have the moment they get out. A new location also exposes them to new visual or other stimuli that can spark off new trains of thought.
Lastly, the freshness of the location and the unfamiliar environment help in making people break out of their comfort zone. In summary, encourage a culture that encourages and nurtures innovative and creative thinking in your organization right from day one, and see the results for yourself.