How To Encourage Workplace Innovation

Innovation is defined as the process of translating an invention, methodology, or idea into goods and/or services that customers are willing to pay for due to the perceived value. Innovations meet a need, and can be implemented and replicated without undue expense. Characteristics commonly found in innovations include imagination, initiative, and the incorporate of diverse ideas and experiences.

The difference between an innovation and an invention is that the former requires someone to make a significant contribution or improvement to an existing service, product, or process. So, if someone created a cabbage-throwing device, that’s an invention. If someone took that cabbage thrower, tweaked it, and successfully implemented it in a situation that resulted in betterment for society, that’s an innovation.

So, innovation is important; we get it. But how do you encourage such a thing in the workplace?


First and foremost, your workplace needs to have good communication in place. In the article “How Cowboys & Facility Managers Help Create Innovation in the Workplace”, we read that cowboys on the range each had their own special job, but at the end of the day they would gather at the campfire and discuss the day, and how to do things better the next day.

In the same way, a company’s employees need to have the means and opportunity to come together to compare notes and offer ideas on how things can be done better. From such an atmosphere comes innovation.

Embrace Diversity

Despite the fact that the word “diversity” has been pretty much overused to death, it’s nevertheless a valuable ingredient in innovation. Each person brings a unique viewpoint and set of experiences to the table, and rather than those differences turning into points of conflict, they are all brought in together into the same recipe.

Naturally, not all experiences will be useful in every given situation, and not every viewpoint will be appropriate to the task at hand. But such determinations cannot be made unless people have had their say. Only then can anyone see what needs to be put aside, and what needs to be kept. Naturally, that means that employees can’t let their feelings get hurt if their ideas or experiences aren’t a good fit, which leads us to the admonition to …

Leave Your Ego At The Door

It’s amazing how many work meetings turn into exercises in shameless self-promotion, showing everyone in the room (especially to bosses) just how terribly clever and valuable certain people are. This is the antithesis of innovation. Innovation requires teamwork, and it requires people taking the spotlight off themselves.

Granted, there are those amazing individuals who single-handedly establish themselves as innovators, someone like a Steve Jobs, for instance. But such people are the exception, and there are precious few of them.

Take It Easy

Have you ever noticed that the best ideas come when you’re not trying? Locking a dozen people in a room and yelling “Be creative!” will produce few results and most of those will be in the forms of resignation letters.

A work environment that’s flexible and relaxed is one that is more conducive to creative thought, which in turn brings about an innovative spirit. A relaxed mind is a creative one, and having a corporate atmosphere where rigidity is thrown aside is a huge plus. No one wants to be rushed or put under undue pressure.

It’s one thing to have expectations, but they need to be tempered with an understanding of reality, of how people, specifically the ones who work for any given company, are wired. Not everyone is sharp in the morning, nor is everyone a night owl. Making an announcement like “Hey, there will be a brainstorming session at eight-thirty, and there will be coffee and donuts” won’t result in much if there are people in the company who can barely tie their shoes properly at that hour of the morning. Therefore, companies need to have flexible hours that address this reality.

Maybe instead of herding people into a meeting room, the solution may be a video conference call sometime during an afternoon, when everyone’s feeling relaxed yet also awake.

Bring In Like-Minded People

While at first glance this may seem to fly in the face of the earlier reference to diversity, that’s not quite the case. In this case, like-minded people are people who feel as passionate about the company and what it does/represents as you do. Harkening back to the original example at the beginning, if you have a team of people where half of them think that hurling cabbages is cool and the rest think that it’s without question the stupidest concept ever, well, there won’t be much innovation there.

This follows the concept of having everyone on the same page. It’s possible to hire people who are a good match personality-wise, while each of them still bringing something unique to the mix. In other words, diversity as manifested in areas like ages, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives is cool; diversity in how people feel about the company and its products and services, not so much.

Bottom Line …

You can’t force innovation. It comes naturally. The best you can do is to create an atmosphere that’s conducive to innovation, and then have a little patience. It will come.

About Author: John Terra has been a freelance writer since 1985. He’s not a morning person, he hates meetings, but loves coffee and donuts.

John Terra

John Terra has been a freelance writer since 1985. As a computer operator in the 80's, he made more than his share of mistakes.

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