Innovation is key to propelling a company towards future growth. A company is more likely to be successful if it fosters an entrepreneurial culture where innovation is encouraged, expected and supported. So how does a company create an environment where innovation and creativity thrive?
It starts with building a diverse organization. Just as colleges and universities seek diversity amongst their students to enrich the learning environment, so should businesses seek out a diverse workforce to encourage innovation through the combination of different life experiences, education and backgrounds. Once that diversity is present, it has to be managed properly to maintain and leverage it.
First, you need to create an inclusive culture that values differing viewpoints and encourages dialogue. Some companies have done this through internal focus groups and committees tasked to advise on developing products. Mattel used MAAF, Mattel’s African-American Employee Resource Group, to advise on a new line of dolls targeted at African-American girls. The group was able to advise on details likely to be overlooked by others within the organization.
Employees need to feel empowered to pursue ideas, experiment and submit them to supervisors. 3M and Google allow employees 10 percent unstructured time in which to develop ideas, while Intuit offers three months unstructured time for their best business innovators. This can be used in one block or spread out over a six-month period.
Solar Systems uses an online survey tool that allows employees to not only submit ideas, but to also provide feedback with the winning submission receiving a prize. This active approach, providing time to pursue and avenues to submit ideas allows employees the freedom to develop ideas in a more freely flowing manner.
Along with being given time, employees must be allowed to takes risks, fail and think outside the box to foster creativity. Risk-taking in pursuit of an idea is how most companies get started. Those same risks can allow a company to grow even further.
Failure should be a learning opportunity and not a reason to stop trying. WD-40, is the result of 39 failed experiment attempts, with the 40th being successful — it literally stands for Water Displacement – 40th Attempt. 3M’s famed Post-It Note is the result of a failed experiment with adhesives that a choir member later experimented with and developed to stop bookmarks from coming out of his hymnal. He was able to do that because 3M had a policy of encouraging workers to use 15 percent of their time on their own projects.
To promote higher levels of creativity and innovation, you have to actively create the environment that will allow your employees to freely express, pursue and submit their ideas. Does your organization provide these opportunities to its workforce?