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Your Innovation To Do List

Six Things You Really Need to Do in Your Company

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

If you want your company to be more innovative, here are six straightforward things − possibly surprising things − you should do.

1. Hire Creative People

Every business claims it wants to hire creative people but few change hiring practices to actually encourage the hiring of creative people. There are a two very simple things you should do to change this. Firstly, look for diversity of experience rather than a traditional career path. If everyone on your marketing team has the same kind of MBA and at least five years' experience in companies like yours, they are all going to think alike and solve problems similarly. That's great for comradery, but lousy for creativity. Instead, hire people with diverse backgrounds that veer from the traditional career path. Hire people who have done crazy things in their lives. Hire people who have worked abroad, ideally in industries different to yours. Secondly, instead of looking for people who will fit into your organisation, look for people who will shake up your organisation. Fitters in do not innovate -- they just fit in. Hire competent people who make you feel uncomfortable, who question processes, who think differently.

2. Listen to Your Women Employees -- and Shut the Men Up

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (in the New York Times), even in creative companies, when women voice ideas in meetings they are usually interrupted by male colleagues who not only run with the ideas, but are credited with the ideas and praised by their colleagues. As a result, women find it best just to keep their ideas to themselves. The consequence to your company is that a lot of great ideas are not being voiced and potential creative geniuses are being muzzled by loud-mouthed men. Their suggestion is to make it a rule that when one person starts talking in a meeting, others must allow her or him to finish before voicing their ideas. A good suggestion.

3. Put Your Product in a Smartphone

I've recently bought a new smartphone. It can do just about anything. Really. Right now it is barbecuing some tofu steaks for me (I'm a vegetarian). It has already selected and chilled a fine Orvieto wine to go with them. Afterwards, it will do the washing up.

Smartphones are threatening numerous established businesses such as satellite Navigation manufacturers, digital camera manufacturers, laptop manufacturers and others. By 2016, Smartphones will probably threaten your business. Do not allow that to happen. Instead, work out how to put your product or service into a Smartphone app. Now. Otherwise some upstart start-up will do it for you -- and steal your market.

4. Close Your Open Plan Office

An open plan office is a big, open space in which everyone sits happily in a brightly lit room, freely able to collaborate, to share ideas and to be accidentally inspired by each others work, right? Wrong! Open plan office spaces are loud, distracting, irritating and force people to look busy to impress rather than think busily to innovate. If you have set up an open plan office, close it now. Instead, give people private working spaces, but provide lots of places where they can easily meet informally for chats. That way, people can collaborate when they want to and they can focus on work when they want to. Put some meeting places near toilets, coffee machines and the staff canteen. This will facilitate accidental meetings of the sort that do not happen in irritating open plan offices. When your colleagues have the opportunity to think privately and collaborate in groups when they want to, they will be much more creative than if they are always on display in an open plan office.

5. Stop the Ideation Games

Brainstorms, ideas campaigns, suggestion schemes; these are all great ways of collecting lots of small improvement ideas that fill up databases, but which are seldom implemented. So, put these exercises aside and look for activities that will lead to big, bold creative visions rather than pathetic little improvements. How about a "Transform Your Business" competition in which people are invited to submit business plans that will radically change the business? How about setting up a Skunkworks and letting a team go wild with big, bold, new product ideas? How about an anticonventional thinking session to describe your business in ten years or even a century? Exercises like these will give you the big, bold concepts your company needs to be an innovative superstar.

6. Easy Implementation Processes

So far, I have given you five great ways to boost creativity substantially. Follow them and your colleagues will be bursting with creative visions. That's great. Really great. But, you also need to make it easy for those colleagues to develop, test and implement their visions. Otherwise, the visions will soon fade away, your colleagues will realise the innovation thing was all a big joke and they'll go back to business as usual. You do not want this to happen -- not after the effort you have made so far. So, build streamlined implementation processes that allow people to make their ideas happen. Be sure that the processes allow for failure -- so that when creative visions turn into nightmares, those responsible can back out, report on why things went wrong and get to work on another, more promising creative vision.

Go For It

That's it. Five conceptually simple things you can do to transform your organisation from an innovation weakling to an innovation powerhouse. Good luck!

Want to Discuss This With Me?

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium