In the dynamic landscape of today’s business world, the ability to innovate is not just a competitive advantage – it’s a necessity. Whether you’re steering the ship of a multinational corporation or captaining a small business, cultivating an environment that nurtures innovation can be the beacon guiding your success. Here, we delve beyond the conventional approaches and explore novel ways to promote innovation in both large corporations and small businesses.

Large corporations: Breeding grounds for breakthroughs

  1. 1. Innovation sprints: Take a page from the world of sports and introduce ‘innovation sprints’. These are short bursts of time during which teams focus solely on brainstorming and developing innovative ideas. At the end of each sprint, the most promising concepts are selected for further development. Google’s ‘20% time’, where employees were encouraged to dedicate one-fifth of their work hours to personal projects, is a well-known example.
  2. Cross-pollination exchanges: Create opportunities for employees to swap roles temporarily or collaborate across departments. This fosters the exchange of diverse perspectives and encourages fresh ideas. Pixar, the animation studio, organises regular ‘Braintrust’ meetings where creators from different projects come together to provide feedback, leading to improved storytelling and innovation.
  3. Innovation ambassadors: Designate a group of employees as ‘innovation ambassadors’ whose role is to actively facilitate and seek out new ideas and encourage their colleagues to think creatively. These ambassadors can organise innovation challenges, hackathons and idea-sharing sessions.

Small businesses: Innovate to elevate

  1. Reverse mentoring: Flip the script on traditional mentoring by encouraging younger or newer employees to mentor senior staff. This can bring fresh insights and a more contemporary perspective to the table. A tech-savvy junior employee might help the CEO grasp the nuances of social media engagement, for instance.
  2. Customer-driven innovation: Engage customers as co-creators of products or services. Invite them to provide feedback and ideas, and even involve them in beta testing. LEGO Ideas, a platform that allows fans to submit their own design concepts, is a prime illustration of customer-driven innovation.
  3. Innovation marketplaces: Create a virtual or physical space where employees can pitch their innovative ideas in a marketplace-like setting. Other employees can ‘invest’ in these ideas with virtual currency, allocating resources and support based on perceived potential. This gamified approach can stimulate friendly competition and encourage creativity.

Cultivating an innovation-friendly culture in any organisation

  1. Fail fast, learn faster: Cultivate a culture that embraces failure as a stepping stone to success. Encourage employees to take calculated risks and view failures as opportunities for learning and improvement. Embracing failure, Amazon’s Fire Phone, although considered a flop, led to advancements in voice assistant technology, paving the way for the successful Amazon Echo.
  2. Diverse perspectives: Actively seek diversity in all its forms – age, gender, background and more. A multitude of perspectives enhances creativity and ensures a broader range of ideas. Intel’s ‘WarmLine’ initiative, aimed at increasing female and underrepresented minority representation, is a striking example.
  3. Resource allocation agility: Implement a flexible approach to resource allocation. Instead of rigidly adhering to pre-established budgets, allocate resources based on the potential impact and feasibility of an innovative idea. Google’s practice of providing engineers with a portion of their time to work on pet projects exemplifies this principle.

Innovation isn’t the exclusive domain of industry disruptors or tech giants. By adopting unconventional strategies and fostering an innovation-friendly culture, both large corporations and small businesses can harness the power of creative thinking to navigate the ever-evolving business landscape. Remember, the seeds of innovation can flourish in the most unexpected places – it’s up to visionary leaders to provide the fertile ground for them to grow and bloom.