Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, disruptive innovation has pushed technology forward at an exponential rate. “New” is actually the norm. This is evidenced by the consumer’s obsession with “newer and better products.

Because of this, leaders covet new ideas that will reshape their market in their favor. That is why 63% of companies now employ a Chief Innovation Officer and 90% of businesses use new technologies to help implement the innovation process. (1)

Wanting does not mean getting. Not all companies are prepared to push innovation and true transformation. Company culture, leadership, or processes may present obstacles.

How can you influence the company culture so that innovative thinking by employees is valued and encouraged?

Let’s look at three ways you can encourage innovative and transformative thinking within your company and how you can overcome obstacles with each.

1. Have a persistent and unwavering focus on the future and maintaining a bold mindset while being pragmatic on execution.

Problem:

Companies often focus on short-term results and silo their innovation into separate divisions.

Solution:

Envision the company one year, five years, and ten years into the future at all levels. Consider the strategy, people, processes, and new skills needed to push the envelope and find ways to “escape the competition” by ingraining new ways forward for ALL parts of the company needed to meet this future in reality.

2. Lead by Example and Set Your People Free

Problem:

Innovation and transformation requires senior leadership conviction to change themselves for future success while giving their people the permission to truly innovate.

Solution:

According to the Center for Creative Leadership,  “20 to 67 percent of the variance on measures of the climate for creativity in organizations is directly attributable to leadership behavior.”  Innovation and transformation starts at the top. Business leaders should be role models for workplace passion, positive outlook, clear direction and vision, and of course, embracing change. This translates to “walking the walk” with behaviors, emotions, communication and other ways of relating to model the change they’d like to see or talk about at their company meetings.  If you don’t give your people the freedom to be truly innovative and model the change you seek as a leader, they will lean on tightening processes rather than being innovative.

3. Promote Accessibility by Simplifying Processes and Providing Executive Support

Problem:

Innovative thinkers within a company may not know where to go with their ideas. They can also be outcasted for “thinking differently”.

Solution:

An intrapreneur can be defined as someone who thinks like an entrepreneur but brings their ideas to the company where they are employed instead of launching their own business. You can encourage intrapreneurship at your organization by supporting your employees’ need to try out their ideas, and letting them pitch decision-makers at your company. In addition, business leaders will need to significantly increase their tolerance for insurgents within their ranks who buck the status quo.

Companies that Encourage Innovation

Let’s look at two companies that have successfully exhibited attributes that encourage innovative habits and behaviors.

Google

One of the many perks of working for one of the largest companies in the world is the free food. It’s true. Google not only offers free meals in their cafe, but also stocks smaller snack stations throughout their offices.

According to Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People Operations, the purpose of the cafes and snack stations is to create a place for employees to leave their desks and interact with other employees.

“At minimum, they might have a great conversation. And maybe they’ll hit on an idea for our users that hasn’t been thought of yet.” (2)

It’s not about the “free food” cafeterias here but truly creating environments for authentic interactions and great conversations outside of the usual work.

Facebook

Facebook can be faulted for doing a lot of things wrong these days. However, we want to focus here on attributes that have helped them innovate over the years. Facebook has encouraged creativity by creating safe spaces where employees can be bold without fear of failure.

Creative Labs is a Facebook initiative that gives small teams the freedom to develop projects that are not part of the core Facebook experience. For example, a small fifteen person team recently unveiled their news reader app called Paper. Their app is a standalone product that reimagines the News Feed as a tactile mobile newspaper. This is not about the application itself but rather the safe spaces created for experimentation without judgment.

Transforming Your Organization

The only way to encourage innovative and transformative thinking is to first embrace it yourself. You must be open to innovations and you cannot fear failure.  Nothing kills creativity faster than the fear of failure. However, we want to fail only so we refine to find our path to success, not failure for failure’s sake.  It’s often the lessons learned after a failure that lead to some of the world’s greatest successes.

If you want to encourage innovation and transformation as a leader, you should also model and reward innovative habits and behaviors. What you should emphasize is a maximum return on learning, regardless of the outcomes. Failure is wonderful as long we are using it as a learning tool towards refinement to find our paths to success. The cost of not failing in the short term is higher than the cost of not learning for the long term.

Sources:

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/07/13/what-can-your-organization-do-to-become-more-innovative/#55434b44bfa8
  2. Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
    LASZLO BOCK – Grand Central Pub – 2017