Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, said, “If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come from just giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” In other words, simply telling people - or even paying people - to innovate isn’t enough. For innovation to spread, the atmosphere must be right.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure that your organization is creating a setting that welcomes, supports, and proliferates innovative ideas.
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Redefine What It Means to Innovate
The word innovation can conjure grandiose ideas of major change and tackling new frontiers. Thinking of innovation in this way can be intimidating. Sure, space travel is innovative, driverless cars are innovative, but make sure your team knows that small changes with positive impacts can be innovative as well. Moving supplies closer to where they are needed is innovative. Implementing a post procedure checklist or using video to document standard work is innovative.
Introduce Techniques that Structure Innovation
There is a host of techniques that bring structure to the process of vetting and implementing ideas for change. The Plan, Do, Study, Adjust cycle is a great example of a way to transform an idea into an improvement. The 5 Whys are an effective technique for making sure that innovation is applied to the true root cause of a problem.
Provide Technical Support
The right improvement management software solution can help innovation spread in a number of ways. First, it provides the infrastructure for capturing and connecting ideas and action related to opportunities for improvement. In addition, the investment signals to the organization that innovation is a priority and management is committed to providing the tools that make it happen.
The definition of cross-pollination is when something grows or is stimulated by the introduction of a different element. When a bee takes pollen from one plant and transfers it to another, this is an example of cross-pollination. Just like flowers growing in isolation don’t usually produce fruit, neither do ideas. Ideas get better, bigger, and more innovative when they bounce around a bit. Cross-functional collaboration is an excellent way to bring new points of view to problems and get team members thinking in new ways.
Recognize and Reward Efforts to Innovate
Fun fact, if you appreciate and thank someone for doing something, they do more of it. As Steven Johnson pointed out, just incentivizing people isn’t enough, but when used in an environment that has been intentionally designed to foster innovation, recognition is an essential element of spreading innovation. When people are personally acknowledged or see the ideas of others praised, they are more likely to truly engage in improvement activities.
Creating an organization that values new ideas is more involved than simply telling your team to go forth and innovate, but it isn’t especially difficult. Simply ask yourself what the organization can do to set the stage and make sure there aren’t any barriers that get in the way. When people are presented with the right environment and encouragement, their ingenuity will likely surprise you.