Businesses today can’t survive—at least not for long—without new ideas and new ways to solve problems. But where do those ideas come from? How can you get more of them—and better ones at that?
If you’re just looking to the top ranks of your highest-paid knowledge workers for inspiration, you’re probably missing out on a whole host of diverse perspectives and creative ideas. Everyone at your organization has potential solutions to your most vexing problems, regardless of whether they know it, from the front-desk receptionist and the customer-support staffer to the head of operations and the CIO.
Let’s take a look at why innovation matters, who should be involved in coming up with new ideas, and how to foster that sort of creative problem-solving at your organization.
Innovation is Imperative
The world is changing so fast that standing still is equivalent to moving backward. The way you’ve always done things may not work in the near future, if your old tools and technologies are no longer supported. Even if you could continue working in the exact same way, your competitors won’t—and as soon as they land on a better solution, your model may be left in the dust.
And you’re not just competing for customers. You’ve also got to keep your employees happy, engaged, and interested in their work. Stagnation isn’t the way to do that, especially not with the ever-changing millennial generation now dominating the ranks of employees.
Innovation shouldn’t be scattershot, though: coming up with a quirky new color for your logo or a new way to track employee hours won’t necessarily solve any of the problems that your business is actually having. Start, then, by defining the problems you’ve seen or heard from customers and the types of solution you’re seeking. Sometimes, just defining something as a problem can transform it from an unsolvable mess to a puzzle that can be worked out. For example, consistently failing to respond to customer inquiries quickly enough can feel like an overwhelming “just the way it is” limitation—or a problem that invites solutions.
Everyone has Ideas
The partners and the C-suite might make the big bucks, but they’re not the only ones at your company with good ideas. If you’ve hired well, you’ve got employees with all sorts of different viewpoints and life perspectives, from diverse backgrounds, educations, and work experiences. Your employees are on the ground, talking to (or hearing the conversations of) customers, fielding their frustrations and their complaints, and working hands-on with your tools and technologies.
Don’t squander that tremendous source of potential ideas.
Encourage Creative Problem-Solving
Set the tone from the top that creative problem-solving is valued, even rewarded, at your organization. Creativity doesn’t end at the top—but the permission to be innovative should start there.
Grant employees ownership of a problem. When employees have some “skin in the game,” they’re more motivated—and empowered—to actually fix problems. That means no micromanaging and no nitpicking. Maybe you’ve got a better way to do things, but then again, maybe you don’t.
Allow unscheduled time for creativity. Google embodies this advice with its “20 percent time” rule, encouraging employees to spend a full one-fifth of their time working on side projects. It takes free time to really get into a creative headspace. Employees who are perpetually overscheduled are unlikely to have the freedom they need to get outside of their own box.
Don’t punish employees for failed ideas. Nothing squashes creativity faster than having an out-there idea—one that is entirely novel yet full of possibility—ridiculed as stupid or infeasible. A close second innovation-killer, though, might be allowing employees to run with an idea and then penalizing them if it doesn’t work out perfectly. Aim to learn from each experience, however abysmal the results, and you’ll at least fail forward.
Great ideas can come from anywhere. Are you doing as much as you can to nurture them and capture them?