Encouraging Innovation

Every day we read about new ideas, products, services and new ways of doing things.

As change happens more rapidly in this world, we all need to make sure that we encourage innovation in ourselves and others.  Yet often we do the opposite.

What Stops People Innovating

Many people fear failure and that may hold them back from wanting to innovate.  After all it is very rare that innovation will happen on the first attempt.  There will be numerous ‘failures’ before innovation occurs.  For some people this fear of failure will stop them from innovating.

Another barrier to innovation is having a closed mindset.  If we don’t believe that everyone can innovate then we will be closed to people suggesting new ideas and ways of doing things.  One of the fastest ways to stop people suggesting new ideas is to utter the words, ‘No, but…’ in meetings where people are putting up new ideas.  It doesn’t take long for everyone to get the message that new ideas are not welcome here.

Making it hard to collaborate is another barrier.  For some teams this can be made worse as not everyone is co-located due to the current disruption.  Employees working from home may feel left out of collaborative efforts. 

Another reason can be that we think we don’t have enough: time, resources and/or money.  I love the story of Kyle MacDonald who traded a red paperclip for a house. Kyle’s book, One Red Paperclip and TED Talk – What if you could trade a paperclip for a house? are worth reading and watching to see how an assumption about needing money to achieve things isn’t necessarily true. Just because we don’t think we have enough, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to be more innovative.

Another barrier is focusing primarily on the short-term.  A lot of organisations reward this type of focus through bonuses and promotions.  If an organisation is to thrive and be sustainable in the longer-term then it needs to be innovating regularly to stay ahead of the pack.

Being risk averse can be another reason used to explain why we don’t innovate. 

If you look at the above list, none of these are insurmountable.  In fact, if these are barriers in your organisation then we would suggest that it is worth examining them to see if they are actually true or simply an excuse which will help maintain the status quo.

What You Can Do to Encourage Innovation

As leaders we should be encouraging innovation and supporting it throughout our organisation.  Everyone has the ability to be innovative if we encourage them.  Make sure that the leadership team doesn’t have ideas about who can come up with innovation and who can’t.

Having diverse teams and a diverse organisation can also help to encourage innovation.  With diversity we get different ways of looking at things, different perspectives and different problem-solving approaches. 

Using the phrase, ‘Yes, and…’ to encourage people to build on one another’s ideas can also help teams to collaborate and innovate together.  Encouraging praise and recognition as part of this process to encourage people to continue to innovate is also helpful.

Look at your environment.  Is it one that encourages innovation?  Are there spaces, including online spaces, for people to connect and collaborate?  Innovation should be fun, after all we are experimenting with new ideas.  Think about how you can encourage a more innovative working environment.  If you are not sure, try Googling, ‘Innovative working environments’ and reading about what some workplaces are doing.

We love the concept of 20% time that Google made famous when it gave its employees the opportunity to spend 20% of their time working on projects that they thought would most benefit Google.  This not only inspires innovation in the employees but also increases the likelihood of the organisation benefitting as well.

If you want to generate more innovation in your organisations, study great innovators.  For example, Steve Jobs was great at generating many innovative products. He was someone who aggressively sought out, attacked and overthrew conventional ideas (paraphrased from The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo). Who should your organisation study and using Steve Jobs approach ‘Are there conventional ideas in your organisation that should be overthrown?’

Another approach to help with this is to try new experiences and seek to make new connections to old concepts.  One of the exercises we use in our Creative Thinking at Work workshop is to see how many uses you can come up with for a paperclip.  It is amazing what people come up with if there are no rules and judgement to hold them back.

By encouraging everyone to be an innovator within your organisation you are opening your organisation up to new ideas that otherwise would probably not have seen the light of day.