Sunday, January 3, 2010

Inspire Innovation in Your Company

December 16, 2009:

by Katherine Parsons

In a recession, marketing and innovation budgets are often the first areas to trim. However, these areas are more important than ever as consumers become extra selective about their purchases. Now is the time to differentiate your offering to stand out. Outlined below are simple tips you can reference to help inspire innovation in your company. We have distilled practices from some of the most innovative companies today into these five easy to implement lessons:

1. Shake it up. Sometimes routines can lead you into a rut. In order to stimulate innovation, shake things up. Move your desk or, better yet, have the whole office rotate pods. This will literally encourage you to see things in a new light and interact with new colleagues. Also, be sure to allow time to leave the office—to work virtually or just work in shops that might inspire the topic. For example, if you are researching health, go to an organic tea shop and work there. Listening to the conversations and sipping the tea will yield new insights. Furthermore, talking to people outside of your department, and even your company, further pushes thinking.
a. At Menlo Innovations, meetings are often continued outside—literally beyond the meeting rooms
b. At What If?!, no “home desk” keeps people from moving and meeting people

2. Play. Children learn through experimentation and interactions, yet as adults we are often reluctant to experiment. We need to reintroduce play into the environment and support the principles associated with it—including the risk of failure which often accompanies trying ones hand at new and unscripted ventures. An added bonus of play is employee engagement and building a sense of camaraderie and sportsmanship.
a. At Google, gyms and play areas encourage relationships beyond work
b. At Ideo, toys and visual, movable bulletin boards foster play and proptyping

3. Express yourself. Companies should allow employees the freedom of artistic expression and personalization as a way to make them feel “at home” in the office and to inspire their work. Moreover, encourage employees to dabble in areas that they are passionate about—even if it means having an artist try their hand at coding or vice versa. You never know where great ideas come from and what can inspire further innovation.
a. At Pixar, you design your own workspace in the way that inspires you
b. At Google , employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on personal “passion projects”

4. Put a stake in it. While it may not be possible for each employee to be a stakeholder of the company, it is possible for each of them to feel like their contribution matters. It is important to motivate employees to action, set metrics and goals to work towards and provide feedback and rewards along the way. Many innovative companies employee a networked, less hierarchical cross-functional team model to maximize employee voice.
a. At privately-held W.L Gore, each associate is an “owner” in the company
b. Pfizer solicits feedback from their employees via a suggestion box program that offers cash bonuses for employee actions that are put into action.

5. Nourish. With so much focus on business results and performance assessment, it is important not to overlook feeding the mind and body as well as the bank. This means focusing on corporate wellness initiatives and individual employees’ wellbeing. Studies have shown that spending money on these enrichment efforts does, in fact, pay off in the long run—a win/win for the employee and company.
a. At Google, besides a stellar free cafeteria, there are also numerous snack pods where employees are encouraged to refuel, refresh and converse
b. At What if?!, praise for the employees is written across the walls and ceiling in the hub area

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