Innovation is anything that changes the status quo. It might be a tool, process, or philosophy that drives a better way of doing work. For your business, innovation can be a competitive advantage. It can improve customer service, make you more agile, and improve your bottom line. But where does innovation come from? How do you find great ideas?
Innovation is equal parts what you know and what you try. To promote innovation, you must put it at the center of your company’s culture. It’s not a once-in-awhile thing, it’s an ongoing process that requires time and discipline. Here’s what you need.
The Well of Inspiration
Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You need inspiration and a well of ideas to draw from. So, the first phase is encouraging your team to be curious and spend time finding ideas they can use later. Some people find inspiration reading articles. Some might read a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a TED talk. The point is to make sure your team is exposed to a diverse, high-quality array of ideas. Essentially, they’ll be gathering materials they can use to build something great for your business. Encourage your team to spend at least 15 minutes a day doing whatever research fills their creative tank (more is better). These are some common resources:
- Online courseware – Pluralsight, Skillshare, MasterClass, and other online resources put hundreds of videos at your team’s fingertips.
- Books – Have a library of books your team can read. This could include subjects specific to IT, leadership, or even sales and marketing.
- Magazines and trade publications – You might be surprised to learn a resource like Adweek has ideas you can use for marketing. Entertainment-focused resources like Wired might clue you in to new technology that can change how you think about your work.
- Forums – Forums are great because they facilitate conversation. Use these to find out what others are doing to innovate. Ask questions and use your curiosity to guide you to new ideas. Spiceworks, Experts Exchange, and Reddit are all great resources.
- Meetups – Consider hosting or attending local or regional events where other professionals get together to talk shop. This will expose you to new perspectives, new ideas, and people who might inspire you. Check Meetup to see if there are events near you.
Putting Ideas to Work
Next, you need a way to make ideas real. Your team members must have a way to share and evaluate the viability of their ideas. Some businesses allow employees to spend a percentage of their time working on anything that interests them and will benefit the company. Some companies set aside an entire week for a hackathon during which the team can collaborate intensively around a specific challenge or purpose. The important thing is to create a process that encourages workers to find ideas, present them, and make them real. Consider this approach or one like it:
- Require weekly research time so your team can create a well to draw from.
- Let workers spend a portion of their time working on side-projects that benefit the company.
- Set a weekly or bi-weekly innovation meeting at which anyone can share ideas, show rough versions of what they’ve built, and pitch ideas.
- Let everyone decide which ideas the company should prioritize.
- Weigh ideas against the needs of your customers and market. Is the idea cool or is it cool and profitable?
- Put resources behind the best ideas so they become your next product, service, or time-saver.
Make Innovation An Objective
Many companies use SMART goals, objectives and key results (OKRs), or other methods to measure track achievements. If you want innovation at the center of your organization, it’s wise to have company-wide goals that everyone contributes to. You can set a goal related to ROI on new ideas you implement (say, a new service offering). You could have a goal around raw ideas generated. You could make it a goal to have a regular innovation meeting, to attend regular events, or to set aside resources. Make sure to pick something that matters to your organization, and make it a goal you can achieve.
Being innovative is like being physically fit. To promote creativity, your people need the right creative diet and time to flex their creative muscles. But most importantly, your people must be consistent. Occasionally working out and having a salad won’t make you fit. Innovation requires discipline, so be ready to create sustainable processes and stick with them.