Priming the idea factory pump

How does your organization generate new ideas for products and services?

Do they come from you or your management team? Do ideas come from asking your employees what they think? Are you engaging your customers, vendors and stakeholders to elicit their thoughts for improvement on existing products and services or to help create new offerings?

If the answer isn’t “all of the above,” you’re leaving potentially game-changing ideas on the table. The simple truth is that innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it doesn’t happen by accident. There are five traits that all innovative organizations possess, and each is just as important of the rest.

They are open-minded and ask, “What if?” CEOs of innovative organizations lead by having no preconceived notions that the way things have been done in the past is the best way to do them in the future. They allow people to follow obscure ideas to fruition to see what happens.

They see what is not there and find opportunities that didn’t exist before. You can do this by hiring people who understand how to keep their eyes open and can identify gaps in the marketplace where there is unrealized potential. Also encourage team members to step inside their customers’ shoes and think about what they’d like to see offered that isn’t currently available.

They have a culture where innovation thrives. Develop lines for open communication at all levels of your organization. Empower and trust your employees to think creatively in how their jobs are executed. And don’t forget to provide them with the tools they need to accomplish their goals.

They have flat organizational structures. Innovation leaders recognize that innovation has no strata and understand it happens at the highest and lowest levels of their organization. They also ask customers, employees, vendors and stakeholders insightful questions that provide new ideas for consideration.

They make innovation, itself, cyclical. Innovation is, at its core, a process. Leaders who understand this require creative, systematic destruction of their products and services on a rotating basis. This ensures that the organization moves forward with new products and ideas rather than relying on the status quo to carry them through.

As you do this, make sure to set achievable goals and challenge your teams to reach these goals by creating valuable incentives for those who meet them.