What does the companies
3M, Polaroid, and Walt Disney have in common. All have innovation in their blood.
All encourage an innovative spirit at every level of their organization. For
example, 3M has a goal to derive 30% of revenues from products less than 4 years
old. Laboratory staff spend 15% of their time on projects of their choice. They
are encouraged to mingle with customers, take risks, and champion ideas. Out
of this culture has come the famous Post-it notes and other very profitable
However, innovation is not
the same as creativity. Creativity is an individual process. Everyone is capable
of coming up with good ideas. Innovation, on the other hand, is a group process.
Innovation results from bringing together the experience, skills, and wisdom
of a group to convert good ideas into tangible products, services or processes.
In other words, it takes the technique of brainstorming to a much higher level---that
of focusing the group's efforts on solving a specific problem, or taking advantage
of an opportunity, or improving performance.
So how does a manager or
team leader cultivate and harvest innovation in their organization? What can
be done to take, for example, an idea for a painting and actually come up with
the painting itself? Here are a dozen suggestions for strengthening your team,
department or business innovative muscle.
- Establish brain trusts
or innovation teams comprised of management, operations, customer service
and other groups to openly explore problems and come up with solutions. Teach
people specific creative thinking an problem-solving techniques.
- Go out and get information
directly from your customers. Bring them together to evaluate your existing
products and services in terms of their current value and potential value.
- Actively seek out, develop,
encourage, and reward innovation in your employees by having contests, special
days, open office areas for brainstorming, etc.
- Sponsor in house trade
show where employees share "how I did it" stories on recent work accomplishments.
Schedule regular meetings, open to all employees at all levels, to discuss
issues and solicit ideas.
- Encourage the Edison
factor---let people know it's OK to fail. Edison conducted 9000 experiments
before developing a working light bulb. The important thing to emphasize is
what is learned from a failure.
- Provide channels which
innovative ideas are transmitted to decision makers for feedback and implementation
similar to what General Electric does in its "work out sessions".
- Have a creative corner
or special area stocked with books, videos, learning games for people to engage
in creative thinking on their own and company time.
- Each month ask people
to focus their creative thinking on a specific issue. Recognize and reward
all ideas that are submitted. Follow-up with what is being down with the ideas.
- Each quarter recognize
the person or group that has made a significant contribution or suggestions
on important issues.
- Use daily reminders such
as desk calendars, handouts, computer messages or posters that will "nudge"
people to be more innovative.
- Bring people together
regularly just to think and talk about issues and ideas. When people are relaxed,
the vast mental resources of their subconscious can be put to work.
- Finally, provide a learning
environment that recognizes and rewards "out of the box" thinking and acting.
On an operational level, this means constantly encouraging risk taking and
innovation and tolerating mistakes and false starts
Are some of these examples
already being done in your organization? Or does your team or department need
to strengthen their innovation muscle? Which can they start doing right now?