Innovation is key to business success, but how can organisations promote and stimulate innovation in their workforce? We explore some practical tips on how the environment, who’s in the room, and what’s being discussed can boost innovation.

Innovation; it’s the driving force behind change and progression. Without innovation, an organisation will only ever stay in one place, and in business, staying in one place is synonymous with failure. But despite what big brands may have you believe, innovation isn’t easy. It’s not a case of simply turning on your employees’ innovation switch and watching the ideas pour out. It’s more complex than that; and yet the essence of innovation is often about taking things back to the simplest level and seeing how they can work in a different way. It’s both complex and simple at the same time; innovation is a true paradox, which goes some way to explaining why many companies struggle to get it right.

The simple part

The idea behind innovation is simple – come up with a genius new idea that will blow everyone away. But this is where a lot of people get trapped; typically they get fixated on the ‘new idea’ part of the objective, yet as any innovator will know, there are very few ‘new ideas’, only recycled ones. So the simple part of innovation is actually going back, looking at what’s been done before and finding a way to do it better. That is true innovation. Yes you may come up with a ‘new’ idea in the process, but that wasn’t the objective, and once you realise this, suddenly innovation isn’t so scary any more.

The complex part

The complex part is the people involved. Innovation comes as a result of people coming up with ideas, exploring the feasibility and finding ways to make it happen. The trouble comes when people aren’t allowed the freedom to do this; whether it’s the ‘big boss’ or simply a colleague, it will almost always be people that stifle innovation and make it harder than it needs to be.

When someone comes up with an innovative idea, there are two common responses; either it will be gladly accepted, put into practice and heralded as ‘genius’, or it will be rejected flat out. The decision made is usually a fairly accurate barometer of the culture in an organisation. The former describes a company who are open to new ideas and actively seek to progress, even if it requires the odd calculated risk. The latter embodies an organisation that is ruled by fear; it may be fear coming from individuals in the organisation, such as a line manager who rejects an idea because it will impact their job. Or it may be a wider, more embedded culture of fear where the organisation is wary of upsetting the status quo, despite the fact that such an approach will typically contribute to failure down the line.

This fear and rejection approach will seriously damage not only a company’s chances of moving forward and progressing, but also the morale of the employees. If every idea thrown up is rejected flat out, your staff will soon stop coming up with them, leading to disengagement and dissatisfaction at work, which will soon impact productivity and output. Supporting innovation should therefore be an integral part of every organisation, and when this is the case is where you’ll see true growth and change.

Stimulating innovation and creativity

Sometimes an organisation will genuinely strive towards innovation, and put all the right practices in place to help it happen, and may still struggle to make any progress. This can cause a huge amount of frustration and may eventually lead to a ‘why bother?’ mentality. But what people forget to do is think creatively about how they are going to innovate. Oftentimes people will simply stick to a prescribed idea of what an innovation meeting should be – a group of experts brought together to share ideas and come up with something great. But if that isn’t working for your company, then innovate about innovation. What can you do differently to stimulate ideas generation? Can you bring someone else into the mix? It doesn’t have to be someone with ‘expertise’ in the specific field, sometimes the most creative ideas will come from someone on the outside; someone who has the space to step back and say ‘why do we do it like this?’ or ‘why don’t we try this?’ Alternatively you may decide to elect someone from your organisation but may choose someone who is independent from the process. That may be your most junior employee or the CEO, but odds are it won’t be the people who’ve been trying for weeks to come up with an idea and achieved nothing. But no matter who you choose to help facilitate, finding the right person is vital, it could be the difference between success and failure.

What about the environment? Are you using a board room that is usually used to conduct dull or tedious meetings? If so, then simply the connotations it holds may transform it into a ‘bored’ room, and if this is the case, innovation will certainly struggle to bloom. It may be you need to take the group outside, somewhere entirely different; this may simply mean hiring a space in another building, somewhere totally new. Or if you’re trying to come up with a specific product, you may want to hold your innovation meetings where that product is sold, stored or manufactured. Literally viewing the problem from a different perspective could make all the difference.

Finally it may also be important to think about who is facilitating the innovation meetings? If it’s being run by a head of department or manager, could this be impacting people’s performance and idea generation? You’d be surprised how even the most confident individual will hold back just because their boss is in the room, especially if it’s an important issue being discussed.

Often the pressure to perform in these situations is actually counterproductive and impairs rather than improves outcomes. So if you or your team are finding yourselves hitting constant roadblocks in your creativity, you may want to consider changing facilitators; this simple alteration can drastically impact the dynamic of a group and help stimulate better output. There are a variety of options if you think this may benefit your team, for example you may wish to partner with someone who has specific expertise in creativity and facilitation; this will help ensure that the organisational hierarchy the secret to success.

Innovation doesn’t need to be complex, with the right strategy and tools in place it can actually be incredibly simple, not to mention rewarding. Not every idea that is generated will be a golden one, but when an idea is thrown out that has real potential to improve the outcomes of a business there is nothing more exciting to witness. But getting to that point takes practice, adjustment and patience. If you’re finding innovation a hard thing to get right, seeking support from someone with expertise in the field may be one of the best  investments you can make. With innovation high on the priority list you position your business at the forefront of your industry, and create a limitless pool of potential for growth and development, and that’s the real secret to success.

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