Creating a sustainable culture of innovation

Savvy leaders know that fostering innovation among their employees is critical to their company’s future success. But, making innovation part of the cultural fabric can be challenging. It takes more than just a mission statement or a few fun events.

It requires a dedicated effort to create an environment where imagination and disrupting the status quo are valued. It won’t happen overnight, but with the right focus, resolve and enthusiasm it can take hold.

Here are five key principles that will help you build a sustainable culture of innovation:

1. Be inclusive. Innovation should be open to everyone in your organization. It’s not the job of just one department or team. After all, you never know who the next big idea will come from. Communicate to employees that it’s OK to take risks and to fail, and then walk the walk. And don’t forget your middle managers. Remind them that the time employees spend innovating is just as important as traditional work activities.

2. Use the right tools. Innovation activities are not one size fits all. You’ll need different tools and techniques depending on the activity and its desired outcome. Be clear on why you’re doing an activity as well as your success criteria from the beginning.

3. Keep it fun. To get people to feel comfortable doing uncomfortable things, you must make it fun. Market events creatively to generate buzz. Choose an entertaining theme, dress up in funny costumes or play games to help people let their guard down. Executives must lead the way, actively participating and showing employees it’s time to start thinking and acting differently.

4. Make it purposeful. You can’t innovate for the sake of innovating. Make sure everything you’re doing is working toward solving a business problem or creating new business value. Innovation events should have a business intent, not just a technology focus. You want to encourage non-tech people to participate without being intimidated. Technology is an enabler, not the solution.

5. Don’t stand still. Start small — use the crawl, walk, run method of learning and building confidence. Make sure you openly celebrate successes and learn from failures. Develop innovation playbooks so you can repeat your process across departments, helping to organically expand knowledge and capabilities. But, never be complacent. There is always a new way to be creative.

Most people will do what they always do — stay comfortable in the status quo. As a leader, it’s your job to shake things up. Encourage and reward those who break out of the norm and foster innovative thinking.

Building an inclusive, purposeful, innovative culture isn’t easy, but the best things never are.


Tim Cunningham is chief information officer and vice president at Grange Insurance. Since taking the CIO role in 2016, Tim has been instrumental in building a culture of innovation, ensuring that the company continues to not just survive, but thrive in the future.

Building a 21st century business model

Innovation, engagement are key to creating a lasting impact

When I think about art museums, I imagine how they operate as democratic spaces, places where anyone can have an exceptional experience regardless of their level of education, economic or social status. I am reminded about why I chose a career in the arts in the first place and how it has fulfilled my boundless desire to share admiration and passion for art with the world.

Being the CEO of an art museum provides the opportunity to create a business model that positions the human experience in the forefront of the planning process by building a business that is focused on the customer experience and on what customers are actually seeking as opposed to what we think they should be experiencing. Basically, art museums are the perfect test sites for forward-thinking ideation, implementing creative solutions and increasing our understanding on how art, creativity, innovation, philanthropy and entrepreneurship can have a lasting impact on building 21st century business models.

So, if museums are good business models, then why is it that many cultural institutions continue to under-deliver on the very experience that could ultimately be the magic potion in transitioning museums from purely transactional experiences, into vibrant, inclusive and meaningful cultural exchanges? The life-blood of any cultural organization and business is how it transforms ideas into experiences and stories into memories, thereby turning visitors and customers into supporters. In order for everyone to have the opportunity to participate in our story, we must first come to the realization that as an art museum, we are not just in the art business; we are in the people business.

At the Akron Art Museum, we believe that art is for everyone, and we see the relationship with our community as an integral part of our goal to enrich the lives of every customer, visitor, patron and supporter. Our commitment to addressing diversity, inclusion and equity as an internal and external practice, is one of the most critical components in transforming any business into a 21st century enterprise. Embracing the human experience will likely be the most important cornerstone initiative the museum has undertaken in its 96-year history.

Another ingredient to the success of any business model is a strong focus on the organizational culture and values that support the mission of the institution. We are in the midst of a new public initiative to transform and ignite what we refer to as the Akron Art Museum Experience. Customers will be introduced to a new digital experience that will enhance the AAM Experience, prioritizing the digital technology to create a fresh and exciting way to interact with our collection and of sharing it with the community.

Change can be scary and potentially disruptive, but with a well-developed business model, inspired employees and engaged customers, making your business’s experience transformational, authentic and relevant will be key factors in determining what success looks like in developing your 21st century business model.

With over 30 years of leadership experience, Mark Masuoka, John S. Knight Director and CEO of the Akron Art Museum, has successfully led nonprofit art organizations and businesses in achieving exceptional performance, profitability and sustainability.

Innovation hub

Resilient Akron places big bet on Bounce

Akron is a city built on innovation. Even after many of the rubber companies left the area, entrepreneurs worked to create new technologies, define themselves in different industries and build businesses — many of which got their start at the Akron Global Business Accelerator — that helped the city reinvent itself.

Bounce, Akron’s new Innovation Hub, will build upon the rich legacy of the Accelerator. Housed in a vast eight-floor former BF Goodrich factory building, Bounce’s kinetic name is grounded in Akron’s Rubber City heritage, but also is a look with excitement and vigor into the future. The historic former plant in downtown Akron offers space for innovation and startup activity, and will undergo renovations this year to transform into a place that facilitates interconnections and collisions of ideas as innovative people explore together.

The rebirth of this building will be about far more than real estate. Bounce is looking to spearhead the reinvention of the Akron economy. It seeks to become a diehard ecosystem builder not just for Akron’s startup community, but also for the entire innovation pipeline. Bounce will be Akron’s breeding ground for open innovation, linking startups, scaleups, universities, corporations, creatives and the community to the resources they need to invent, build and drive the economy forward.

The building will feature a makerspace, cafe, University of Akron eSports lab, networking and coworking spaces, the Bit Factory tech accelerator and the new eBay Retail Revival Program, along with offices for more than 50 entrepreneurial companies. Bounce will also offer programs to help entrepreneurs and innovators advance their ideas.

Local entrepreneur Doug Weintraub was named Bounce’s new CEO in March, and he has a big vision for what Bounce will become. He looks at Bounce “as a catalyst and connector in the ecosystem, building upon the special sauce that makes Akron unique.” He added, “The value that this hub of innovation will create for our city has the potential to be game changing.”

Heather Roszczyk, Akron’s liaison to Bounce, also believes that the future for Bounce looks bright. She observed that “Akron has deep roots in innovation. And while we certainly have seen a period of challenges, we are now seeing a powerful upswing in entrepreneurial energy. Bounce is perfectly timed to fuel that momentum. Over the past two years, I’ve seen an increase in communication and cooperation among stakeholders as well as unlikely partners like the creative sector and the tech industry. I see Bounce as that place where the foundation of Akron innovation meets the future, and creates something incredible.”

In his 2018 State of the City address, Akron’s Mayor Dan Horrigan shared that since the time of its founding, Akron has been “a place where entrepreneurs and business innovators can thrive; and Akron’s revitalization will continue to be driven by entrepreneurs. Bounce will be the front door for anyone who is or wants to advance entrepreneurship.”

We are excited to continue our work on the Bounce Innovation Hub and see the Mayor’s vision come to life over the coming months. This is a great opportunity for all of Northeast Ohio, and exciting times for those who seek to collaborate and innovate.

Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, which leverages its extensive experience in venture philanthropy and ecosystem expansion, Morgan Foundation today is pursuing a strategic blueprint that will drive entrepreneurial growth and education regionally and nationally by supporting those with the courage to power our economy.

The knowledge economy

Where innovation comes from is changing significantly

Most of us are aware that we are not just in a global economy, but a knowledge economy as well. Yet, traditional metrics used by government entities at the local, state and federal levels remain wedded to metrics that were instituted in the first half of the last century, when tangible assets were the sole basis on which to judge the health of our economy. But a lot has changed since then and it is time for us rethink what is most important to business success.

Arguably, the new era of knowledge driving economic opportunity goes back to the emergence of the microelectronics industry on the heels of the 1947 discovery/invention of the transistor by William Shockley and his colleagues at Bell Laboratories. However, I think the knowledge economy truly began with a 1970 paper by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen demonstrating the feasibility of genetic engineering. In a flash, Genentech, the first biotechnology company was founded and marked the beginning of the biotechnology industry. Together with the ongoing growth in information technology, biotechnology and other new research-intensive industries, such as nanotechnology, are continuing to drive the economy today.

Of course, many “new” ideas had previously led to profitable business ventures, but what distinguishes the current environment is the speed with which discoveries from R&D laboratories are quantified in a market environment and how much more frequently they are coming from universities. What is more, every business, every industry, is increasingly high-tech and depends not just on incorporating new technologies, but also on the knowledge and skills of its people to a degree never before seen. Indeed, the lament we hear from today’s CEOs is that their most important assets “go down the elevator and out the door every night.”

Success is no longer just dependent on discoveries made within a company. The age of “open innovation” is upon us as well, meaning that companies are in constant search for relevant ideas, regardless of where or by whom they might be developed. Procter & Gamble, for example, is now expecting that half of all of its innovation will come from outside the company. There are even specialty companies, such as InnoCentive in London and Massachusetts, that crowdsource solutions under contract. And right here in Northeast Ohio, the firm of Nottingham Spirk has worked successfully with numerous companies to spur their innovation and product design in ways that has created significant added economic value.

All of this means that while physical assets remain an important component of economic measures, they no longer suffice. New ways to think and account for intangibles must be found. While not every idea has value, nor any patent, a company’s asset portfolio must increasingly include its knowledge base in the form of talent, relevant R&D networking and intellectual property.

On a practical basis, businesses in Northeast Ohio should be increasingly aware of their own knowledge base, augment their talent, and seek ideas from collaborators and competitors alike. A good way to begin is perhaps also to seek advice from the open innovation marketplace in our region.

Luis Proenza serves as a Distinguished Fellow at the U.S. Council on Competitiveness and co-chairs the Innovation Policy Forum as a member of the Science, Technology and Economic Policy Board (STEP) of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

What benefits approach makes a positive impact for your business?

Historically, if you are like many businesses trying to provide employees with a quality benefits package at the most affordable price, it is likely that you repeat the same old process year after year and at the plan renewal.

It typically begins with a few prayers to the renewal gods for a low premium increase, followed by reviewing quotes, comparing benefits and networks — leap frogging from one insurance company to another and shifting more costs to your employees.

To make matters worse, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has placed even more regulatory requirements and administrative burden on employers.

Now more than ever, employers need to break tradition and work with a broker who can negotiate, innovate and leverage technology to support your plan’s enrollment, communications, data and reporting.

Smart Business spoke with Ron Smuch, insurance and benefits analyst at JRG Advisors, about key areas employers should consider when selecting an insurance broker.

Are you provided with year-round support?

Accessibility and support is the foundation for maintaining an effective benefits program.

While it’s true that open enrollment is a challenging time of year, employers need to ask themselves, ‘What is my broker doing for my benefits plan the other months of the year, when it comes to customer service, compliance support, education, technology and strategic planning for the next renewal?’

What advantages can ACA compliance tools provide?

The rules and regulations governing employee benefis plans are complex, but technology is available to guide employers.

For example, there are tools to determine your number of full-time employees, ensure that your health plan provides minimum value and deciphers complex IRS reporting requirements.

To avoid compliance violations and penalties, choose an experienced, technology-based broker who provides access to tools, resources and offers qualified guidance.

What are examples of how technology can be used in benefits?

Technology now exists that allows an employer to gain de-identified employee health data and risk factors. Armed with this information, gaps in care can be identified, employee education can be specific and emerging health insurance claims can be reduced.

As far as open enrollment, this process can be not only a lot of work for the employer, but also a very confusing process for employees.

By using technology-based enrollment, however, an employer can save time and money and make the process more efficient and user-friendly for the human resources department and their employees. Many technology-based systems have forged their way toward improved communications, increased productivity, streamlined processes and cost savings for employers.

What are the takeaways for employers that want to become more innovative when it comes to their benefits?

The balancing act for an employer, which is trying to maintain a cost efficient, effective and competitive benefits package, requires an innovative benefits expert who can implement and maximize technology to meet your company’s unique employee benefit needs.

As an employer, ask yourself, ‘Is my broker making a difference for my company?’ A benefits expert who provides technology, resources, data analysis, targeted solutions and strategy to impact cost has the expertise and innovation you should be demanding.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

2016 Smart 50 specialty award winners

2016 innovation winner

annaliescorbinAnnalies Corbin, Ph.D.
President and CEO
PAST Foundation

What truly impressed the judging panel about Annalies Corbin is that not only did she spend 16 years exploring innovative educational practices and pushing the boundaries of how meaningful learning is delivered to all students, regardless of their background or location, she put that research into action by founding the PAST Foundation.

Corbin and her team work at local, national and international scales to create responsive solutions to the challenges facing educators trying to prepare students to thrive in a complex world.

In Central Ohio, Corbin and her team created the PAST Innovation Lab, which allows education partners to explore ideas that are difficult to implement within their own buildings or community. The Innovation Lab includes four workforce development, STEM-based Learning Labs — Bodies, Design, Growth and Energy — as well as fabrication labs and robotics arenas.

As the Innovation Lab gains momentum, the renovation of the facility continues. The next phase, planned for 2017, will add more Learning Labs and enhance existing programs.

The horizon is never static for innovative educators. Whether professional development delivered online to teachers across the nation, school redesign, bridge programs that focus on after and out of school immersive experiences, or applied research that facilitates and validates change, Corbin and her team constantly explore new ways to promote, amplify and accelerate innovative approaches that will change the conversation on the educational landscape.


2016 impact winner

markdebellisMark DeBellis
President and Owner
Suburban Steel Supply Co.

Mark DeBellis of Suburban Steel Supply Co. cares about his employees, deeply. He truly wants engaged workers, while also working to improve the image of blue-collar workers. For example, he likes to help his employees develop softer skills, such as learning how to take care of their finances.

Suburban Steel also has an anti-smoking program, where employees bring in the amount of money they would have spent on cigarettes each day for 40 days. If they don’t start smoking again, they receive double that amount.

Now that DeBellis isn’t running as much of the day-to-day business, he’s focusing more on educating younger people about careers available in skilled trades that don’t mean starting out with college debt.

College isn’t for everyone, and that’s something that DeBellis promotes every chance he gets. When students find out what a typical day is like for a Suburban Steel employee, and about the salary, benefits and career development potential, this real-world data can be eye opening.

As a nation, we’ve lost focus on the value and need for skilled tradesmen. At Suburban Steel, the culture embraces the hard-working, skilled laborer — it’s the economic engine behind the business.

By exposing and attracting students to skilled-labor career opportunities, as a financially-viable alternative to the mainstream four-year college degree, DeBellis and his team make a lasting impact on their community and business for years — and perhaps generations — to come.


2016 sustainability winner

skipprichardSkip Prichard
President and CEO

In just three years, Skip Prichard has had a profound impact on OCLC, an organization founded nearly 50 years ago, setting it up for another 50 years of success.

A nonprofit global technology company and research organization serving the needs of libraries, OCLC provides shared technology services, original research and community programs. Through OCLC, member libraries produce and maintain WorldCat, the most comprehensive network of data about library collections and services in the world.

Prichard reorganized products and services into four lines of business, bringing clarity and focus. He restructured the executive management team and cut operating expenses by millions while maintaining, and in some cases, increasing revenue.

After a review of technology platforms, architecture and data centers, he determined that the technology approach that supported OCLC’s growth and success for decades needed to improve to take the organization into the future. Today’s OCLC provides cloud-based services that change how libraries and information providers work together.

In just one year, OCLC completed a project to evolve its data center strategy, upgrade equipment and infrastructure, and further standardize processes globally to increase service responsiveness.

Knowing that space impacts workplace culture, Prichard spearheaded a major upgrade to OCLC facilities. The renovations were completed just in time to host the IFLA World Library and Information Congress, an international gathering of thousands of information and library professionals that Prichard helped to bring to Central Ohio.

Six tips on how help from a peer organization can ease innovation development

With all due respect to Ralph Waldo Emerson, building a better mousetrap far from guarantees that the world will beat a path to your door.

I spent months developing, prototyping and even patenting a product. Then, when the bugs were worked out, I put out press releases and even did some advertising. I was waiting expectantly to hear cash registers ringing, but all heard was the disappointing sound of crickets chirping — a costly lesson.

So what did I learn?

First, I didn’t run my plans to create a product past anyone with experience innovating and bringing a new product to market. I didn’t do market research. Further, my attempt to pour money into an advertising campaign was a waste. Conducting innovation and development in a vacuum is an extremely risky proposition.

What have I changed?

The most important step forward was to join a peer-to-peer organization; in my case, the Cleveland chapter of EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) and taking the time to learn what other entrepreneurs utilize for go-to-market strategies. By being in an open, safe and experienced-based environment that enabled me to be confident and to be surrounded by with supporters who allowed me to formulate my current process, I learned to focus on a positive result in order to move on to the next.

What does that look like?

Here’s the thumbnail version:

  • When visiting customers, have your salesforce look for gaps in your product offering, specifically weaknesses areas where your product isn’t making the customer’s life easier. Use this to formulate a product idea.
  • Once you have an idea, talk to several more key customers to see if the problem is worth solving. If so, how much would they be willing to spend for the product? If the amount is in a range of profitability, go to next step.
  • Collaborate to hone the idea (the more people who are smarter in this group than you, the better). One caution: be sure non-disclosure, confidentiality and employment agreements are in place to protect your ownership of the product.
  • Go back to key customers with the innovation and gauge their interest. Get commitments to test it at their facility along with signed confidentiality agreements.
  • Build the prototype and test it; make design adjustments as feasible.
  • Evaluate whether it is worth patenting. My criteria is simple: Is it unique enough that competitors will have to go to great lengths and expense to get around it; and/or will getting a patent offer a marketing advantage large enough to justify the cost?

Obviously, this patent or statutory patent must be applied for before rollout.

Is this the most definitive process for innovating a successful product out there? Probably not. Is it better than innovating in a vacuum and keeping your fingers crossed? Definitely. Take it from someone who’s done it both ways.

Tom Hobson
Abanaki Corp.

Tom is the founder of Abanaki Corp. and Aerodyne Environmental, companies that manufacturer water and air pollution control solutions to make our world a cleaner place for the next generation.

You Tube:

Did you define innovation?

Manufacturing companies are at their most efficient and therefore lowest cost when they are executing on their business plan. Outside the walls of every manufacturer, however, other manufacturers are working to out innovate the competition. If you fall asleep or get complacent, you will suddenly find yourself scrambling to catch up.

True innovation — discovering or finding disruptive technologies, practices and processes — can be expensive for a well-oiled corporate machine. The entire system is designed to deliver optimum performance on the linear path of the business plan.

Leaving that path with a new technology or practice is painful and will cost you in lost profits, at least temporarily. But you have stakeholders that expect a certain income level, commission, flexibility of schedule, security or safe repeatable routines from you that they can count on to be the same tomorrow as they were today.

So you strive to be the industry leader, to find that newest tech, the next process improvement, the next advancement in equipment or machinery. You introduce innovation to the entire company. You try to create the culture that will attract the best people. You hire an innovation manager, someone who has a proven track record at companies just like yours.

Finished before the start

I worked with a large manufacturing company that makes commodity plastic commercial products. The CEO of the company hired an experienced vice president of innovation and handed him the keys to R&D. He immediately held an internal all-hands R&D symposium on innovation to develop the culture that would drive new ideas and attract smart, inventive people. He brought in experts in finding new technologies inside and outside the company. As a team they visited the local big name research university to see all the new stuff they were working on, the newest leading edge polymer research. It was exciting to see.

The R&D team returned to its respective divisions with a new outlook, ready to roll up their sleeves and start innovating.
After a few weeks, the vice president of innovation resigned. Good people left. Research was back on the previous focus. What happened?

Clarifying the message

Turns out that to the CEO, innovation meant finding lower-priced plastics and reducing cost throughout the company. He wasn’t interested in disruption, only in lower costs to drive profits to please the stakeholders with minimum change.

He hadn’t defined for the team what innovation was to him. You can imagine what the cost could be to the morale of the R&D team, to the manufacturing groups, to the sales team. The company has been through a series of layoffs to help reduce costs and improve the short-term profit picture since.

Every company is demanding innovation. Is your company truly ready to embrace what innovation is and all that comes with it? To create the culture that attracts the best people? Can you afford it? Will your stakeholders accept it? Have you defined what innovation means to you?

John Myers is entrepreneur-in-residence, director TA2 at the University of Mount Union. He is helping the University of Mount Union build out its entrepreneurship program, connecting with manufacturing companies to provide R&D and to establish a patent and IP commercialization policy as well as managing its incubator.

It’s entrepreneurship …not innovation that is the key to economic growth

Gallup Inc. has been using its StrengthsFinder methodology to look closely at what makes successful entrepreneurs tick, and its new book, “Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder” by Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, identifies some interesting strong suits.

The book is the result of 10 years of research across more than 4,000 successful entrepreneurs and describes the traits and behaviors that propel these entrepreneurs to create, build and literally change everything known about the world today.

Four ideas advanced by Clifton, Gallup’s CEO, in the forward of the book are important to share. These ideas underline the importance of identifying and cultivating the people that possess these strengths in all of our communities.

1.         The central belief that innovation is the key to economic growth is dead wrong — it is entrepreneurship that is the key to growth. Clifton argues that if innovation is the “cart,” entrepreneurship is the “horse” that creates the customers and value from any invention and innovation that occurs.

Universities and laboratories are full of invention and innovation. Patents abound. But until an entrepreneur takes an innovation and builds a business around it that solves a problem, attracts a customer and creates a job, innovation itself does nothing for economic growth.

2.         Entrepreneurship as measured by startup activity is in trouble. Despite growing confidence in the economy and a sense that we’ve seen economic recovery, for the first time since the numbers have been tracked, the latest census data shows that business deaths were higher than business births. That means that free enterprise as the engine of job creation and employment is slowing down and that can’t be good for our future. We need more successful startup activity and that means we need more entrepreneurs.

3.         Entrepreneurship is more about nature than nurture. The research shows that 5 in 1,000 working-age Americans possess the rare talents required of successful entrepreneurs. Identifying those with the skills and intentionally cultivating their talents with systematic support can accelerate growth of successful startup activities.

4.         Economic growth hinges on the ability to better identify and nurture entrepreneurial potential in children and working age adults. While educators identify and develop students with high IQs and those with great athletic talent, they are missing the estimated 150,000 blue chip entrepreneurs in today’s high schools and middle schools.

Similarly, there are lots of adults with this same talent that aren’t being cultivated. Finding these entrepreneurs and exposing them to curriculum, mentors and experiences that ignite their inborn talents will fuel the startup activity we need for growth.


As a reader of Smart Business Cleveland, you are most likely one of the 0.5 percent of the population with the gift of entrepreneurship in your DNA. As such, there is a role you can play in helping to cultivate the next wave of individuals that can shape our country’s growth. We are queuing up a conversation in September with Gallup in Cleveland. If you want to be a part of it, contact me at [email protected] and we’ll get you involved. — Steve Millard


Steve Millard is president and executive director of the Council of Smaller Enterprises. For the last 15 years, he has guided COSE’s work to support the success of small business owners and act as a nonpartisan advocate and resource for their needs on the state and national levels. Contact him at





It’s not always about something new, just better

“An innovative reimagining of obsolete urban industrial spaces”— that’s how the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association describes The Strip District, one of its four 2014 Great Neighborhoods in Pennsylvania.

I’ve always loved the bustle of The Strip, with its mix of tourists and locals bumping into each other as they search for bargains. (Although, I admit sometimes I feel like there’s a neighborhood ordinance that Steelers gear must be sold every 200 feet.)

In many ways, it represents the heart of new Pittsburgh, where gritty warehouses have been turned into modern market stalls with organic products or decorative jewelry. So, that’s why it makes a perfect subject for this month’s Uniquely Pittsburgh.

And reimagining the obsolete to make it useful again is something we can all do more of in our organizations.

Put a twist on what’s tried and true

Innovation isn’t always about coming up with something new. It can be about rediscovery and reinvention — taking the tried and true and putting a twist on it.

For example, remembering last year, I can’t help but think of the transportation phenomena that swept the nation, Uber and Lyft. It certainly made a splash in Pittsburgh, both negative and positive.

The idea of rideshare isn’t really new, but it does provide consumers with a different choice for car services.

We need to be willing to experiment with new ideas, methods or devices, whether those are truly novel or more a matter of taking something obsolete and updating it for today’s world.

Going from routine to creative

OK, that’s easier said than done. Yes, let’s go forth and innovate, but what now? I’ve certainly experienced the futility of a blank Word document and nothing to type. Getting started is often the hardest part.

First of all, it’s hard to switch gears from the routine to the innovative. And even when managers say they want to innovate, the organizational structure itself can work against that.

I found an old article by Stanford professor Robert Sutton from MIT Sloan that offers ideas for switching gears and getting your team to stop working only by rote. And in the interest of rediscovery, I thought I’d share some of his insights:

  • Incite discomfort and dissatisfaction — being uncomfortable or unhappy can break people free of ingrained and mindless actions.
  • Treat everything as temporary and ignore the experts.
  • Identify and reject your preconceptions. For example, think of something ridiculous and plan to do it. Dumb ideas can lead to good ideas, or turn out to be good ideas themselves.
  • Shake up the composition of organizations and teams to break up atrophy. You also can try bringing in new people who think differently, such as smart people who had bad grades in school.

Just like taking apart an old toy to see how it works, and how you can improve it or mix it with your other toys, keep experimenting. Yes, you might have a blank Word document in front of you, but if you don’t get started — even if it’s terrible — you’ll never go anywhere.