3 Steps to Inspire Innovation

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
— Steve Jobs

One of our favourite quotes, from one of our favourite innovators! Steve Jobs and Apple are one of the best modern examples of pure innovation. Apple unapologetically pursued a path of being the best in everything they did, creating products that didn’t just perform, but products that changed the way we do life today.

In particular, the iPhone.

Although the smartphone movement had already begun, Apple change the landscape by creating a full multi-touch, large screen display, that was able to be effectively used by your finger as a direct mode of input. This was innovation at its finest. Whilst everyone else was using keyboard, keypads, stylus etc. as an input, the adoption of multi-touch has been one of the biggest innovations in smartphone use! It is now seen as “retro” to have a phone that requires the use of anything other than your finger to interact with it. It changed everything and is a great representation of innovation.

Innovation is one of the core features of any successful business. Having the ability to disrupt, advance, and revolutionise the norm, is a sure-fire way to success. Though, as with most things, innovation is by no means an easy thing to just whip up. So how do you focus on creating a culture of innovation within your organisation? For me, the first step is realising what quenches innovation in many organisations. In my opinion, the first step towards knowledge is the understanding of what hasn’t worked for other organisations. So, let’s take a second and understand what the top 3 barriers to innovation are!

Barrier #1 – The Boss

This is by far the most common barrier. A great boss, with a big vision, can be the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy view of innovation. There are several ways this happens;

  1. Your boss doesn’t want to take risks.
  2. Unwilling or unable to make time to listen to innovative ideas.
  3. They are overly concerned about cost, time, or other limiting factors.
I admire risk takers. I like leaders – people who do things before they become fashionable or popular. I find that kind of integrity inspirational.
— Larry Ellison, Chairman & CEO, Oracle

Many of these can be genuine reasons to an extent. After all, you wouldn’t be happy with a boss that was willing to take every risk that was thrown their way. Though the reality is that most of these can be managed in a reasonable way. In my mind, the most important thing for a boss to do, is to always make the time, and be open to hearing the latest ideas that their employees come up with. No matter how crazy they may seem, the more often you say no to innovative ideas, the more you suppress the number of ideas your staff will come up with. It’s the boss’s responsibility to create a culture where people can ask questions, share ideas, be heard, and see some of these great ideas come to fruition! Start squashing every idea that comes your way, you will soon be left with an office full of staff unwilling to even give a second thought towards creating innovative opportunities!

Barrier #2 – Red Tape

Arbitrary rules and regulations can be another huge barrier when it comes to innovation. The problem with this barrier is that in some instances, nothing can be done to change the rule or regulation stopping a new idea coming to fruition. In these circumstances, nothing can be done, essentially its back to the drawing board to come up with another way that doesn’t break a rule our regulation that can’t be changed. There are times though, when an internal company regulation, policy or rule is broken by a new idea, that you need to take a long look at what that exact regulation is, why it exists, and if the innovative idea is impactful enough to pursue it. What I’m saying is this, don’t let company rules and regulations stop your staff from dreaming, constantly shaking the big book of rules in their face just stops innovative ideas in their tracks. Instead, take a leaf out of barrier 1’s book. Make time to hear any idea, sometimes breaking an internal rule is the way to bigger and better things!!

Barrier #3 – Self Confidence

For me, this is the most crucial point of all! If any of my colleagues felt like my constant rejection of ideas stunted their confidence in thinking creatively, I would be appalled at myself!! The more and more you reject ideas, the more and more you squash the confidence of your staff. Your staff will begin to ask themselves why they even bother, or just feel like they are completely inept at coming up with clever ideas. If your plan is to have a team full of robotic staff that do your bidding, you’ll be heading in the right direction. But, if you want a team that is constantly coming up with great ideas, be prepared as to how you manage the crappy ones. Would you rather have one innovative idea out of 100, or none? The deconstruction of your team’s confidence will be the end of an innovative organisation.

So, what do you do?

  1. Listen - Most importantly of all, make yourself available and take the time to listen to new ideas.
  2. Understand – Do more than just listen, understand the new idea brought your way. Not all ideas are what they seem when first communicated, so taking the time to fully comprehend the application and intention of the idea is so important.
  3. Encourage – You will be potentially faced with tens of ideas before you are presented with a good one. So, prepare yourself and plan how you manage the bad ones. Map out how you can leave an employee still feeling encouraged about bringing their idea to you, even if it’s not something that can be pursued!
  4. Nurture Culture – Set the standard for how people are treated and invest in nurturing the culture of your organisation. Some of the best places to work in the world are the most demanding, but they have the most amazing cultures! Establishing a culture of trust, honesty, and encouragement is the best kind of culture to cultivate innovation!