4 tips for creating a culture of ideas and innovation

If you’re a hobbit embarking on an epic adventure with naught but a shiny ring and your own bare feet, it’s OK not to worry about how you’re going to slay the dark lord until you get there. But innovation in the workplace doesn’t work that way. You can’t make real impact and regularly generate ideas unless you create a culture of doing so. You can’t just hope for the best.
Here’s what people might be thinking in a non-innovative workplace.
“We don’t have time to waste on small ideas.”
“This is the way we’ve always done it.”
“Just do your job and leave the thinking to the higher ups.”
“If we change things, people will just get confused.”

To avoid these toxic thoughts, you must get everyone into the right mindset. This begins at the very top of your company and permeates every level. It includes the intangibles of culture: the beliefs, expectations, and sense of purpose of those in the company. Creative thinking and collaboration can be encouraged and rewarded, or in many formal and informal ways discouraged. It’s the leader’s job to get it right.
To avoid falling into the trap of simply focusing on the bottom line, it is important to do the following:
1. Listen
Your employees live and breathe the business as much as you do. They can therefore have tremendous insights and ideas that can lead to new innovations. All you have to do is hear them out. To ensure you do so, be sure to regularly ask your employees how they think and feel and how things can be improved. You might be surprised.
2. Collaborate
No single company holds all the cards in developing new innovation. You should therefore make an effort to work with outside groups – complementary corporations, government agencies, universities and the like – to gain access to new perspectives and ideas.
3. Go flat
Flat management structures don’t have the red tape, disjoined lines of communication and long approval processes that inhibit innovation. If you can’t go flat, be sure to empower your employees to think and act independently, and not be afraid to speak their mind.
4. Embrace failure
Remember penicillin? The lifesaving antibiotics were invented by accident when a Petri dish containing staphylococcus was mistakenly left open. Many other great innovations were unintended results, created by accident. If your company is able to accept mistakes and look beyond them, you might be very surprised!

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