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How to be innovative and creative at work

In light of the new year, I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce a term you may or may not be familiar with – innovation. The word “innovation” is quickly skyrocketing in the business world; it’s everywhere. According to businessweek.com, it “has become the rallying cry of every product manager, the pursuit of every design consultant, the autocomplete of every press release writer.” But what does it really mean? Innovation technically means to introduce a new idea, or to take an existing idea and make it work better. Innovation in the workplace tends to refer to the process of introducing something new. This process starts from the origination of an idea and goes on to the transformation and implementation of that idea, taking into account the system on which the process unfolds.

Innovation in the Workplace – Do it like Google

“You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and still be in business tomorrow.” -Unknown

What many businesses do not know is that innovation at work is the most important aspect of a business. It makes businesses stand out among the market place and helps them grow. Without it, businesses have less chance of attracting a customer base.

According to healthguidance.org, few successful companies understand its meaning. The most successful companies encourage innovation in the workplace. For example, Google allows their staff to spend 30% of their time pursuing their own creative interests which has lead to innovative ideas such as Google Maps and Google Adsense, which have genuinely changed the way we live and made Google in phenomenon more than a search engine.

Encouraging innovation with OneDesk

The best ideas often come from customers who use a company’s product or service. As seen in the example of Google above, employees also often come up with great ideas. OneDesk helps encourage innovation in the workplace. With this social business application, customers, employees and partners can collaborate in one single application and submit feedback and ideas to a company. The company can then turn the feedback into actionable items and the entire team can watch as the ideas are implemented and transformed into reality.

How to be innovative and creative at work

Innovation is essential for any company’s success, but it the responsibility of generating new ideas can’t fall to one person. It truly takes a team effort to keep coming up with fresh and creative approaches to your business challenges. A panel of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) members were asked the below question:

“New ideas are vital for the continued growth of a company. What is a particularly effective way of encouraging innovation from your teams and employees? Why does this approach work so well?”

How to Encourage Employee Innovation

1. Ignore Titles and Let Everyone Share Their Ideas

“We follow the saying, “leave your title at the door.” Whenever our team has meetings, everyone is encouraged to offer ideas, regardless of their rank or tenure at the company. This allows for a diverse range of opinions, ideas and perspectives. An intern may have a brilliant idea but may be scared to offer it. This empowers them to have confidence in their idea.”

2. Get Out of the Office

“Stepping away from the office with the team can produce innovative ideas. A new physical setting in a comfortable atmosphere can frame a relaxed mind and casual conversation. When this occurs, and when the team is working on something truly innovative to begin with, that’s when the ideas start to flow!”

3. Incentivize Revenue-Generating Ideas

“Not only do we have an open forum for our employees to encourage innovation, but any new business ideas that generate revenue will allow the employee to make a portion of those sales. We have built our bonuses based on group and individual performance to encourage those who have innovative ideas an incentive to go for gold!”

4. Be Specific About the Ideas You Want to Address

“Ask your team to come up with new ideas in a specific area of your business, not your business as a whole. For example, ask for ways to improve a specific work process or ways to reduce the cost of a specific service. Setting up parameters for a creative process can be incredibly productive.”

5. Encourage Process Ownership

“The first step is documenting the process. You can begin with Google Docs before it grows into wikis and intranets. I’m partial to a tool called Gluu, that mixes linkable flowcharts with wiki features with rigid process ownership. Once there’s structure, gather input from everybody, but put one person in charge of that process so that nothing becomes paralyzed by analysis.”

6. Build a Culture of Engagement

“Employees are most innovative when they are engaged in their work, that work is meaningful, and they understand the part they play in the company’s goals. A culture of engagement depends on employees feeling that they can speak and be heard, which in turn depends on managers who are willing to listen.”

7. Be Open to All Ideas

“Never belittle an idea. The moment you judge a person because of their ideas, they will stop desiring to provide them for you. Keep your environment healthy, and you will avoid the toxicity of bad ideas and good ones being lost.”

8. Ask Them to Research the Broader Business Landscape

“When employees spend time investigating how other businesses in different industries operate, they can draw inspiration from what they see and come up with their own unique ways to apply what they’ve learned to your business. While you can also have them keep an eye on the competition, you must encourage them to explore how other companies innovate to help your business truly differentiate itself.”

9. Get Them in Front of Your Customers

“Customer research doesn’t stop once you’ve built the product. You should regularly put your team in front of customers to learn about their evolving journeys. How does your product fit into their lives? What do they wish it could do? What other problems do they have? If they could wave a magic wand, what would they do to make their lives easier? Customer feedback is oxygen for good ideas.”

10. Listen to Those on the Front Lines

“A great way to encourage innovation from employees is simply to ask them about and value their views and opinions. Some topics I include in my company’s weekly progress meetings are competitors who might have beat us for a deal and why, as well as what was effective and what else could help streamline our process. There’s nothing better than consulting with those on the front lines of your business.”

11. Give Your Team Visibility Into the Bigger Picture

“Give your team the chance to see the big picture. As a leader, it’s your job to inspire your employees to stand out by maintaining transparency and open communication. The innovators and creative thinkers in your company want to know that their work is having a material impact. Giving them that visibility allows them to understand how they can continue to effect change.”

12. Give Them Time to Work on Side Projects

“Every Friday afternoon, everyone in the company is free to work on any side projects that they would like, whether it relates to our business or not. The idea is to enable creative thinking in all different areas, so that everyone can continue to flex those creativity muscles.”

13. Acknowledge All Ideas in a Positive Way, Even If You Disagree

“You should always reward people for their ideas and input, even if you don’t agree with them. Never shoot down somebody’s idea in a negative way, always be appreciative of their suggestion and respectfully disagree if you have to. When somebody does share a good idea, make sure the rest of the team knows it. This will motivate the person who provided the idea and inspire others to share theirs.”

14. Ask for Anonymous Feedback

“For a while, I had a “suggestion box” shared document file where anyone could anonymously submit ideas for our company, regardless of their seniority or position. It’s such a simple idea, but our company has come up with some very successful strategies this way. Removing the fear of looking like a fool or speaking outside of one’s rank has fostered some very creative and effective ideas for us.”