An office that has a culture of innovation attracts the best talent and achieves its business goals faster than those regular ‘nine-to-five’ offices where people just work because they have to. A culture of innovation in an office is an environment that encourages out-of-the-box thinking on an on-going basis.
To make the most of innovative thinking in the office, top management needs to decide which areas of innovation the company needs. There has to be a clear-cut direction. Are ideas needed to make customer service really spectacular? Do you currently experience a barrier in entering new markets and are looking at ways to making a breakthrough? Do you need a focus on new trends so you can be one-up on the competition? It is up to the leader to channelise thinking into a specific path, otherwise there will just be a stream of haphazard ideas which, though interesting, are not aligned with corporate strategy and objectives.
To lay the foundation for a culture of innovation in the organisation, you need to look at different parameters. What are your company’s core strengths and how can they be exploited to the maximum? What weaknesses need to be overcome and how does one put on the innovation cap to address this problem? What can be done to beat the target competitor in the marketplace?
Somewhere within the organisation are innovative ideas waiting to surface. It’s the leadership style that can make or break these ideas, so the right framework needs to be created. If you’re the boss, so much depends on you. Do you dismiss the idea offhand without giving it due consideration? Do you immediately see ways in which it won’t work rather than exploring its possibilities? Do you pay lip service to the need for ideas but never use them? Next time someone comes to you with a new idea, stop and think: do you immediately shoot it down? Unless you communicate a good reason why their ideas can’t be implemented, people will stop coming to you with them.
Giving people conflicting messages can be an innovation killer. Do you ask for innovative ideas and at the same time want people to meet short-term goals? This may send out a confusing message.
Creating an innovative environment means allowing people unstructured time to think, experiment and explore new ways of doing things. They should be encouraged to meet informally. Steve Jobs, the great innovator, said: “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways and calling each other at 10.30 at night with a new idea.” Make sure your organisation encourages this kind of thinking and does not expect people to work too rigidly according to office norms. Ad hoc meetings should be encouraged. People should be able to tinker with their ideas, share them with anyone, any time. Brainstorming should not be the exception but the rule in the office.
One stumbling block to the generation of innovative ideas is a feeling of fear—fear of being rejected or ridiculed. This needs to be eradicated. People should feel free to come up with ideas. Mistakes should be tolerated. Failures should not be penalised but welcomed—because failures quite often lead to new directional thinking.
Ideas can come from anywhere and from anyone—even the person coming in with the tea. Don’t give the impression that only a select few from the innovation think tank can come up with ideas. Everyone who contributes an idea should be acknowledged and if the idea is accepted, duly rewarded.
It’s a good idea for the leader to walk about in the office, stop and chat with employees in their cubicles and encourage them to come up with new ideas. His or her door should always be open to people. One anonymous someone can come up with that winning idea everyone has been searching for. The next innovator might be right there, in plain sight.
Build a culture of innovation in your organisation and give talented and motivated people an opportunity to explore new ideas. When you create this kind of environment, you’ll have created a magnet for a talent pool of innovators who will help take the company to a new level of success.