Foster a culture of innovation

Innovation is the lifeblood of business. Companies must continually improve processes, bring better products and services to market, streamline supply chains and increase efficiency. By inspiring employees to seek out new ways to succeed, a culture of innovation propels the entire company forward.

Innovation can mean a single major breakthrough or a series of incremental changes. The most successful businesses seek both at once.

Famous innovators include entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Less well known are tens of thousands of small business owners whose ideas keep the engine of commerce running in their communities. You don’t have to be a titan of industry to make innovation work for your business.

As a business owner for the past 27 years, I’ve found that great ideas come from every level of the organization. Here are some ways to get innovation percolating throughout your business:

  • Inspire passion. Studies show that people who love what they do feel more creative. Creating an atmosphere where associates have fun naturally encourages new ideas.
  • Hire for creativity. Look for staff with a record of embracing and driving change. In some cases, this might mean hiring from outside your industry.
  • Set expectations. Ensure that all employees know innovation is part of their job. They should be looking for ways to improve products and processes every day. Work this requirement into planning and review processes.
  • Put someone in charge. Since our company hired an innovation team leader, we’ve seen advances in both the speed and success with which we implement new ideas.
  • Develop processes to capture ideas. Place suggestion boxes around the workplace, hold regular brainstorming sessions or take an occasional retreat to discuss ways to improve. Use what works for your business.
  • Dedicate space and resources. At my coffee roasting and training company, we transformed our former headquarters into an innovation lab where we develop new drinks, training courses and business processes. Having an inspiring space has accelerated the rate of new ideas. If you lack space within your company, you can rent a meeting room at Sparkspace or a local cooperative working company.
  • Reward innovation. Incentives can encourage people to think creatively, and everyone likes to receive recognition for a job well done.
  • Encourage risk taking and experimentation. Make sure associates feel free to express their ideas without the risk of criticism or ridicule. Do not penalize those who try new ideas and fail. Keep in mind that Thomas Edison made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts to create an incandescent lightbulb.
  • Learn from mistakes. Conduct a post-mortem after an initiative fails. Learning what went wrong increases the odds of success for your next effort.

Although these are some basic steps for fostering innovation, companies use many other strategies to propel growth. Once you begin taking conscious steps toward innovation, you will find the search for new ideas and processes is never ending.


Greg Ubert is founder and president of Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea. Since 1991, Crimson Cup has roasted sustainably sourced specialty and craft coffee in small batches. The company also teaches entrepreneurs to run a successful coffee shop through its coffee franchise alternative program, which includes a coffee shop business plan. Crimson Cup coffee is available through a community of more than 350 independent coffee shops, grocers, colleges and universities, restaurants and food service operations, as well as in the company’s own coffee shops in Columbus.