There are countless examples of innovation coming out of very humble circumstances. Steve Jobs and his original partners built the first Apple computer in his parent’s garage. Starbucks founders invested $1,350 of their own money to introduce the American public to the taste of freshly ground dark roast beans. Jeff Bezos went and bought enough cheap, used books to fill his garage and then started Amazon.
The point? They didn’t need a ton of money or other resources to develop what would eventually become industry-changing products and technologies. You don’t either! Here are some ideas to boost innovation at your company without breaking the bank.
Adopt the 20% rule
Google is just one firm that has made the 20% rule a part of its culture. Each employee is asked to spend 20% of his or her time focusing solely on innovation. During this time, they are encouraged to explore ideas that they’d otherwise not have time to pursue. This time might include education, networking, research, or any other way one might gather information to solve a problem.
Give employees the flexibility to work out of different spaces. Consider creating a fun and inspiring coworking space within your existing offices. Or, allow time for employees to go offsite to do their creative thinking (e.g., during their 20% time!). Creativity and innovation rarely come out of a constrained environment, so create one that is flexible and fluid and the results will follow.
Make Brainstorming Sessions Anonymous
Want to pull some really creative (and sometimes crazy) ideas out of your employees? Then try this trick. Make a brainstorming session anonymous. Identify the problem that your group is trying to solve and ask team members to submit their ideas without identifying who they are. You’ll be surprised how much more people will go outside of the box when they don’t fear judgment or, worse, rejection from their boss or coworkers. Discuss each submitted idea with the larger group so you can build even further on the creativity and possibilities of each person’s ideas.
Consider Offering Incentives
Big companies like Google and Westin are known for their generous incentive programs that encourage employees to come up with great ideas. If the innovation results in higher market shares and revenues, consider awarding equity. If it’s cost savings that result, offer a small portion of the savings. Or you can keep it simple and treat the employee and the team to lunch, or toss in a couple of extra vacation days.
The next time you form groups for projects, consider mixing it up a bit. This is particularly effective when the group is charged with a project relating to innovation. Mix departments, mix employee levels and titles, make it random! By combining perspectives from those employees who don’t usually interact, you may come up with some surprisingly innovative ideas.
Use Play or Art to Stimulate Creativity
Tech companies have long used pool tables, game consoles, and yoga / meditation rooms in their employee spaces to stimulate innovative thinking. A newer take on this concept has leaders using LEGO or art supplies and asking meeting attendees to use these materials to design solutions to problems. This allows employees to think with their hands, which activates part of the brain that is not typically accessed when simply speaking or reading. This results in new thought and new perspectives that otherwise likely wouldn’t come out.
So, the next time you’re feeling “stuck” in the innovation department, give one (or more) of these ideas a try!