Every organization today needs to create value. Without value creation, there is no growth, teams become stagnant, and organizations inevitably fall behind the competition.
As a global leader, you may feel that innovation is your responsibility. In part, that’s true; your vision can help to keep your organization looking forward. However, the most creative organizations don’t generate creativity from the top. They welcome it from all levels.
Think about Google’s well-known 20 percent time policy. Google employees can spend one day a week working on side projects. These independent side projects have resulted in a number of products that we know today: Gmail, Adsense and Google Glass, to name a few. Instead of dictating projects from above, Google enabled its employees to develop their own ideas, and then build on them. Not all of these projects turned into successful products, but some became massively successful. That’s innovation working at all levels.
Of course, not all organizations can afford to give their employees 20 percent of their paid time to work on side projects. Google has reportedly allowed the program to dwindle. But all leaders can work to build a culture of innovation in their organizations. The goal is to encourage all employees to continually generate new ideas. To accomplish that, you have to welcome nonconformity. This means being comfortable with disagreements and supporting employees who branch out from established norms. It also means creating constant opportunities for new ideas, and making suggestions and innovation a part of the everyday organization culture.
According to Harvard Business Review, a number of recent studies have shown that the more ideas people come up with, the more creative they tend to be. So don’t think that you have to stick by the maxim “quality over quantity.” Often, when people are brainstorming, they start with the most obvious ideas. Only after they’ve gone through all the expected possibilities do they start getting truly creative. When you’re generating new ideas with your team, keep pushing for more suggestions to reach the most innovative ideas. On the flip side, a 2010 study suggested that creativity maxes out once you have about 200 ideas.
Of course, if you want to get the best ideas on the table, you’re going to have to make sure each person feels comfortable making suggestions. As a leader, this is where you can do the most to shape culture. Lead by example by coming up with some ideas yourself, and make sure that you show respect to each idea from each team member. You might also want to consider embracing individual, rather than group, brainstorming. When in a group setting, some people might hesitate to bring their ideas forward. Individual creativity might also give way to the group consensus. Before you hold a group meeting, invite each member to prepare by individually brainstorming ideas. You might end up with a much broader variety of new suggestions.
You can also encourage innovation by making idea creation part of your organization’s everyday routine. Set up an old-fashioned suggestion box or create a shared document where employees can regularly submit ideas or suggestions. To get the ideas flowing, you might ask for suggestions on particular topics or to accomplish a specific goal. When you leave that door open, you might be surprised by what comes through it.
Once you have the ideas flowing, your next step will be to develop a system to choose the best ideas. TheHarvard Business Review article suggests placing trust for these decisions in innovators, not necessarily just the organization’s leadership. Look at team members who have come up with successful ideas in the past. They may have the best sense of what’s likely to be successful. Balance this advice with input from management, who should have a good idea of what is feasible within the scope of the organization.
As global leaders, we always want to lead change. Keep in mind, though, change doesn’t have to come directly from you. When we build a culture of originality, invite a constant stream of ideas from everyone. That’s when we create the best innovations.