Fostering Innovation in Your Company

Home » Culture & Structure » Fostering Innovation in Your Company

Almost everyone today agrees that companies need to be encourage and harness innovation to increase profits, customer responsiveness and/or solve societal problems. There’s a lot less agreement on HOW to do this effectively.

Over the years, I’ve spoken and delivered webinars about creativity and innovation, and focused on how to foster it among individuals and teams. Companies often engage their people in creativity-spurring exercises (e.g., Brainstorming, SCAMPER, TRIZ, Opposites). In addition, some companies have gone so far as to allow creative souls to take time off from work to be creative and generate innovations. 3M has a long tradition of giving employees the opportunity to take 15% of their time to focus; today, Google offers 20%. Billl Gates, while CEO of Microsoft, annually took a week off to creatively attack problems; indeed, his commitment to focus on the internet came from this week off.

For most of us, the real issue is how to institutionalize it for employees in general. Practically Radical, William Taylor shares stories about a few companies with novel approaches.

  • Threadless, an internet based T-shirt (and other clothing) sales company decided to “crowd-source†to obtain great new designs. It allows community members to submit shirt designs and later rate them to become the final candidates for selection. Winning designers receive compensation for their entries.
  • Netflix wanting to improve its ability to predict which shows/films you would like, and sponsored a million dollar prize for anyone who could develop an algorithm that improved on its current one by at least 10%. Teams of people throughout the world were formed to meet the challenge and earn the Netflix Prize. A seven person team from four countries succeeded. Had the company hired people for to do this (assuming they could even find them!) it would have cost at least triple the amount!
  • Rite-Solutions, is a software company which develops advanced (and often classified) technologies for space, homeland, security and military applications. Recognizing the brainpower of its staff, it built an institutional tool which would encourage creativity and innovation: a stock-market of ideas called Mutual Fun. Each employee is issued $10,000 in “opinion money†to invest in their internal stock market of ideas.. A proposal become a stock, complete with ticker symbol, “expect-usâ€, discussion list and email alerts. It lists at $10. Employees signal their enthusiasm by investing in the stock, and volunteering to advance it. The market regularly updates its Top 20 list, and periodically management decides which ones to invest in. One idea suggested extending a pattern-recognition algorithm to education; the result was a toy contract with Hasbro which led to a multi-million dollar relationship.

What are you doing to spur creativity among your staff and freelancers? What systems are you institutionalizing to reap the rewards of their eventual innovations? Share your story and inspire us all!