Companies large and small should always find time to innovate. The constant effort to innovate will lead the business to success as better processes, new services and new product breathe new life into the organization, ultimately saving money and increasing sales.
If you look at some of the companies that live or die by innovation, such as Apple, Google and others, it is obvious that they integrate several elements into creating an environment that encourages creativity. It can start with the office structure: offering more conveniences for employees, flexible work hours, monetary rewards for ideas and the list goes on. Not every company can do this, so how can you encourage innovation?
Start by fostering creativity in the workplace. Begin with weekly, twice a month or monthly brainstorming sessions with your employees. Involve everyone but stick to the two-pizza rule (only have the number of employees that can comfortably eat two pizzas); if you have more than 8-10 employees, split them up into groups. You can do this by mixing departments, or by including everyone from one department.
Here are some ground rules to follow:
1. Have the brainstorming session last no more than one hour. There comes a point when everyone has exhausted his/her creative contribution and it then becomes forced. Not a good thing!
2. Have zero tolerance for negative comments, and negative non-verbal cues.
3. Forbid the word ‘NO.’ There is no quicker way to shut down an idea or flow of creative thinking than by saying the word ‘no.’
4. Generate as many ideas as possible but do not take the time to analyze them.
5. Have someone take notes of all the ideas (or record the session).
6. Gently redirect ideas back to the business if they get too far off track.
7. Be open to any and all ideas given without passing judgment! No idea is “bad” since any idea can lead to a great one.
Once the session is complete, have the ideas typed, and then get back together (ideally within 24-48 hours after the session) to review the ideas. You can do this with the same group or with a select group such as top management or a small cross functional team that represents the business. This is the time to rule out those ideas that would be too costly, those for which the timing is wrong or not in line with the company’s mission. Then have another brainstorm session either to flush out the ideas for further research and/or develop the chosen one(s). This process is really up to the organization but be sure to involve everyone as to what happens to all those ideas that were generated. Otherwise, your employees will view all future brainstorm sessions as a waste of time and will not want to be a part of the process. No good ideas will come out of that!
The effort to continually brainstorm ideas is the way companies can promote creative and innovative environments. You cannot expect each brainstorm session to yield a winner, but through the process you are ensuring future innovation and the importance of creative thinking in your organization. The benefit can be felt in many ways. Employees realize they are important to the organization; they will realize that all ideas have merit so they will continue to think of new ideas for the company. Brainstorming fosters better teamwork, leads to higher morale and encourages fun in the workplace. All this can result in a lower turnover rate, higher performance, and reduced sick days. What do you have to lose?
Remember that innovation can benefit ALL companies no matter what industry you are in, whether you are a service provider or product manufacturer, or a large or small organization.
Theresa Freihoefer is a business professor at Central Oregon Community College. firstname.lastname@example.org