𝗚𝗼 𝗘𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲: 𝗙𝗼𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝗜𝗻𝗻𝗼𝘃𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻
Updated: May 4
The ability to look at the same world through a different lens and then leap from your vision to execution can lead to wild success.
“Imagination will take you everywhere.”
– Albert Einstein
For startups, innovation can create a competitive advantage, determine a market leader, increase efficiency, and lower costs. Most importantly, you must avoid the danger of stagnation.
Is there a way to foster and formalize such an abstract notion as innovation? If Einstein can capture the formula for relativity and in the same powerful mind grasp the power of imagination, hopefully we can create a framework that sees our ideas put into motion.
Culture of Innovation
To foster and formalize innovation, encourage your team to propose and test ideas through these areas:
Culture. Incorporate innovation as one of your company's values. Solicit and encourage suggestions on capturing, examining, performing, and evaluating ideas.
Scheduling. When the company dedicates time and resources to innovation, everyone sees commitment. Show you value innovation by devoting recurring times for deep work, presenting new software and platforms, and brainstorming on projects.
Recognition. Celebrate when the team makes recommendations, which can help to save costs, introduce revenue streams, and prompt client recognition. When leaders announce their pleasure in innovation, regardless of the outcome, it sends a clear message. Consider a contest where ideas are judged based on creativity versus practicality. Great concepts can be refined later, but nothing kills ideas faster than a gang of marauders hurling cynicism, so reward both the ideation and the implementation.
Safety Net. When people do not fear repercussions, they are much more likely to share ideas. Assert that there will be no judgment and emphasize learning regardless of outcomes. Separating brainstorming from implementation will encourage greater creativity.
Solutions Approach.* When a crisis arises, the instinct is to focus on the problems and to lament or ruminate on what happened. Instead, if I were your COO, I would encourage you to move toward solutions quickly. Lingering on a problem emphasizes the past and your limitations while concentrating on its resolution emphasizes the future and new opportunities. There will be discomfort either way, but the solutions approach moves you to a new place much faster.
Ideas come from many sources. A variety of potential sources for ideas—as well as ways to cultivate them—are enumerated here:
Network. Create channels where everyone can suggest ideas, from public meetings and brainstorming sessions (which may excite extroverts) to direct inquiries and brief surveys (which may interest introverts). Ideally, in addition to the team, reach out to investors, advisors, clients, vendors, and contractors on ways to grow. Ideas improve with diverse inputs, so consider multiple approaches.
Connections. One way to generate ideas is to combine people from different teams into task groups or encourage more conversations through random matching. By sharing experiences, people may make connections and discover innovative approaches, both of which are good for building relationships. Hold fun events, like scavenger hunts and puzzle-solving exercises to reinforce collaboration.
Exposure. Place yourself and the team in new situations to generate originality. Many scientific breakthroughs were unintended and occurred when the inventor was focused on something else.
Go to an unfamiliar place, ideally with the dual benefit of visiting clients, contributors, or partners worldwide.
Enroll in free classes on various subjects, whether they align with specific job responsibilities or expand your thinking e.g., writing and philosophy.
Offer a small stipend to take a course or attend a summit, with the only stipulation being that the person shares something they learned.
Expose the team to diverse cultures, systems, media, and books (both nonfiction and fiction).
Buy everyone a book outside their comfort zone and ask them to share their favorite insight or quote.
Appreciate Pressure. Innovation often occurs when there are constraints on time, money, and resources. For instance, you may remember from high school that it’s much harder to write a concise paragraph than a full page. When encouraging innovation, make sure the guardrails are clear—particularly around budget, timing, and similar criteria—without being so restrictive that no ideas can form.
Dig Deeper. Like a doctor separating symptoms from the underlying disease, you must go beyond the surface level. When a problem arises, understand why it matters, what you hope to accomplish, and how your work will improve. In order words, don't take issues simply at face value. Going beyond the presenting "symptoms" helps you balance the short-term and the long-term needs.
“People who can focus, get things done.
People who can prioritize, get the right things done.”
– John Maeda
Create a useful system for evaluating ideas. It will create efficiency around assessing many more of them in the future. It also should help you concentrate on decisions versus having to recreate the process each time. Here are some steps to apply when evaluating ideas:
Goals. Start with clear and measurable company goals to create a framework for planning and evaluating important decisions. Whenever there is a new decision, revisit your goals for clarity.
Process. Determine who will suggest, evaluate, and rank ideas. Ideally, a small group of two to four people will bring their recommendations to the founders or leadership team.
Evaluation. Decide on which criteria will be used to evaluate ideas. Some options:
Impact. What do your clients, company, team, and individuals stand to benefit from a new idea? Are there certain opinions that carry more weight?
Risk. Conversely, what can go wrong for the company, team, clients, or investors? How does this risk weigh against the dangers of stagnation and losing to the competition?
Expertise. Which resources, authorities, and team members will provide useful guidance?
Experiment. How can you initially run a small test to mitigate any potential risk? If you can test across just a few employees or clients and spend just a little, you could gain a better sense of a strategy’s value.
Rating. Determine how to rate each idea based on its positive impact on the company, team, and clients. The objective is a clear framework with objective, measurable criteria to rate ideas consistently.
An idea without implementation lacks power. Successful execution requires communication, expectation-setting, and measurement. Finally, feedback will help to improve performance. Let's review these steps in more detail:
Communication. As stakeholders see that their input matters, they will be more supportive and eager to suggest ideas proactively. Set times weekly, monthly, and quarterly to reach out to various stakeholders. Consider meeting them for coffee or a meal—spending time outside the office can feel more friendly.
Setting Expectations. We are all teenagers at heart and want to know why we are doing something or have been told to do something. When providing high-level goals and constraints to the team, you should give context to the meaning of the work. Even if people do not agree with the details, knowing the context will give them more confidence in the plan.
Measurement. Based on the desired outcomes, you want to decide the following:
Who will own the measurement? (select only one person)
What criteria will you measure?
What are the milestones?
Is there a scale of success? (e.g., green = good, yellow = concern, red = bad)
How will you validate information? (e.g., test 10% of results for accuracy)
How will you share your findings? (e.g., a dashboard or shared document)
How will you know to continue the project?
Feedback. Review progress on a specific date. To do so effectively, consider these steps:
Share reports on activity, outputs, and outcomes openly.
Collect comments and suggestions regularly.
Meet intermittently to keep reviewing and advancing the objectives.
Pro Tip: After each experiment, review your findings and priorities to decide whether to keep going, apply more resources, or experiment with something different. The key is to test new ideas constantly.
Key Takeaway: Innovation drives expansion, efficiency, and engagement. Standardize and optimize how you collect, implement, and measure ideas to grow successfully.
* More on Solutions Approach here.
Photo by Skye Studios which can be found here.
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