There are likely at least a million and one quotes relating to innovation that have been uttered throughout the history of mankind. It’s what taught us how to fashion flying weapons back in prehistoric times, so we didn’t have to risk being stomped by Woolly Mammoths. Our ability to adapt and improve is the only reason that early humans survived while the Neanderthals died out due to starvation some 30,000 years ago. Climate change was a problem even then, (despite many who blame industrialism and the pollution it has scarred the planet with in recent centuries) leaving Neanderthal man without the precious large animal food sources they had thrived on up until certain point.

Rabbits were plentiful and have always been plentiful during our existence and theirs. However, while humans learned the skills needed to hunt them, Neanderthal man did not (learn more). At least that’s one theory as to their untimely demise. But it illustrates just how important innovation is nonetheless.

Image Credit: Celestine Chua/Flickr
Image Credit: Celestine Chua/Flickr

Today, innovation is cultivated and encouraged on a global level.  Not only in tech or business sphere, cities are also adopting smart city vision, turning themselves into tech hubs, in which governmental departments’ information systems, schools and other city’s assets are inter-connected to one another using cutting-edge ICT and IoT solutions.

On business-sphere, you can adopt the same mindset, which can offer you competitive advantages.  The big question is: How?

How to Cultivate and Encourage Innovation in Your Company:

1. Drive the company forward by adopting a more creative culture

One needn’t look anywhere but Google and their spin on Pareto’s 80/20 rule. Called the “20% Time Policy,” they once encouraged employees to spend 20 percent of their “paid” time at work developing and working on creative side projects of their choosing. Projects that the search engine giant hoped would lead to boundless innovation in the company. And it did with innovations that many of you have likely heard of (Gmail, Google Talk, Google Reader — to name a few). They axed the program a few years back. I believe it was due to pressure from stockholders, moreso than a lack of effective ideas that led to innovation and higher profit margins.

Develop an environment where new ideas are welcomed, nurtured and tested for viability often. Use an app like Slack where employees can upload ideas and have them taken to a vote by their coworkers. Fire the people who laugh and/or scoff at ideas, not the employees who have the courage to put themselves and their creativity out there.

2. Encourage experimentation — and (some) failure

Always encourage your team or teams to experiment by making failure acceptable, even imminent. This is even more important for established companies trying to keep their foothold in the market and create new ones. Startups have to accept that failure will cut into company funds and even halt branding efforts at times. Whereas, existing companies often fall prey to hanging on to every R&D dollar they have, while squeezing as much profit out of every idea they can before moving on to new ones.

“Teams members in every function should be testing ideas. If they don’t know why or how, teach them. Explain why smart companies are built in a way that allow for failure. Help them understand they can’t create a culture of experimentation or innovation without sometimes invalidating ideas (read: fail). Inspire them to want to test out their assumptions quickly, learn and iterate.” Heather McGough (Lean Startup Company)

Image Credit: Lower Columbia College/Flickr
Image Credit: Lower Columbia College/Flickr

3. Let customers take on some of the creative load

If you haven’t adopted this strategy yet, you’re leaving profits hanging out there somewhere in cyberspace, soon to be snatched up by a competitor who’s willing to listen. Make sure your website and social profiles all have easy methods for customers to offer suggestions for improvements or new and exciting products they’d like to see you bring to market. On that same note, make sure you have a team monitoring blog comments, social comments and “social noise” in general so you never miss a good idea when it’s given.

We want to hear from you
Image Credit: AlthonPT

4. Don’t fall into analysis paralysis mode

If you’re going to take the time to over analyze everything before taking any measurable action toward testing new ideas, you might as well pack it in and close the doors right now.

“It sounds trite, but it’s true. Facebook’s mantra is “move fast and break stuff.” Most of the time, testing any given new idea/tactic in real-time instead of debating them endlessly won’t sink an early stage company (assuming proper common sense, ethics, etc.). So giving employees the freedom to screw up as long as they have the discipline to test and measure encourages the freedom to innovate.”  Avi Levine  (Digital Professional Institute)

5. Offer rewards

The easiest way to encourage innovation is to pay for it. It may sound stupid, but you do have to pay to play, regardless if you’re a Silicone Valley tech startup or a financial services giant. You can offer straight up cash for winning ideas, or sweeten the pot with profit sharing incentives or paid vacations to exotic locales, which offer the dual benefit of time off work plus free transportation, accommodations and activities.

You’ll find that offering a reward incentive will elicit ideas not just from your most devoted employees who really care about the company’s future, but also those who consider themselves short-timers; people who have ambitions beyond the future of your company, but yet still have lots of creativity to offer beyond that set out in their job description — for a price!

Image Credit: Phillip Pessar/Flickr
Image Credit: Phillip Pessar/Flickr

Don’t forget to share!

Please share your own ideas on how to encourage innovation in the workplace in the comments. If you know someone who can benefit from these tips, send them a link or share this post on social media.

Here’s wishing you a happy, positive and creative day!