How you can encourage more innovative thinking at work
Does innovation seem out of reach for your team or organization? If you’re judging innovation by the number of big, disruptive breakthroughs produced, it can seem elite and commercial. Most leaders, however, understand the value of innovative thinking as a practice and recognize small breakthroughs and efficiencies are beneficial – and well within reach.
When we change our mindset about innovation and define it as a process of continuous improvement, then every organization can foster an environment of innovation. Every organization can use it to maintain its edge and avoid growing complacent. Every organization can use it to motivate and challenge employees.
The beauty of this mindset is that it doesn’t require any initial investments – it’s incremental, more attitude than policy and small by design. You can help nurture innovation now by trying some of these culture-sifting steps:
Share inspiration: We live in a world overflowing with ideas. Create a forum or highjack your messaging channel once a week so employees can share inspirational content for work-related challenges. For example, an article explaining how another agency solved a problem you have or an infographic with good stats. Another option is their own sketch with a new idea.
Call for help: Identify organizational or workflow challenges and actively ask for help solving them from others in your organization. Coming from different perspectives with different experiences and resources, others might have an idea that sparks a breakthrough for your team.
As Apple, Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Cross-pollinate: Pull people from different teams and departments to work on big challenges. You may discover rock-star thinkers from other groups and help break down division while generating new solutions. Google’s incredible office space has pioneered the idea of co-locating cross-department teams while they are working on a project so they can exchange ideas and collaborate more easily.
Brainstorm with your stakeholders: Ask stakeholders and outward-facing employees to talk through improvements to service or streamlining operations. Run new ideas past them and ask for feedback. Ask about their wish list. Or, have them walk through typical interactions to come up with solutions that benefit both parties.
Accept failure and experiment anyway: Innovation requires risk, so acknowledge the possibility of failure, dial down the drama around it and encourage experimentation. Create an environment where staff can make suggestions or present ideas without fearing it will negatively impact their job if it’s not successful. Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, advocates for trial and error, saying, “We experiment endlessly, with new products, new methods, new companies, and new marketing. Ideas are the lifeblood of business.”
Take action: It’s not enough to generate ideas or new processes. Research has shown that not acting on innovative ideas, or taking too long to develop them into plans, detracts from innovative thinking. Use whatever agility and managerial influence you have to move ideas into action.
Schedule downtime: Make room for an exchange of ideas and innovative thinking. Magic happens in the moments when people are chatting before the meeting starts, musing while refilling their coffee or spit-balling as a group. Give your staff the time for organic exchanges and constructive contemplation if innovative thinking is your goal.
I read a Citrix Systems study recently that indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic – and particularly new technology and flexible work – has shifted us into an “Era of Hyper-Innovation” across multiple industries. Surprisingly, the results weren’t about major breakthroughs or disruptive discoveries, but rather a surge of innovative thinking and new processes that empowered employees to work in new ways.
You can leverage the changes your organization has already made in the last two years and keep the good going. There’s so much potential to be tapped when you decide to embrace an innovative mindset.
Edward Tuorinsky, Managing Principal at DTS, a government consultant business, is a service-disabled veteran who brings nearly two decades of experience to DTS in the areas of leadership, management consulting and information technology services.