Each year, Forbes magazine ranks the most innovative companies in the world on their potential for innovation. Tesla Motors was the top-ranked business on this year’s list, released in August.
The entrepreneurial force behind the company is co-founder and CEO Elon Musk who believes innovation—such as the creation of new products, services or processes—is essential for companies that want to profitable and recognized as trailblazers in their industry.
Successful innovators like Musk approach innovation as an essential part of their business. And not just for company leaders. Ideas for innovation can come from anyone in an organization. In fact, it’s often employees working on the front lines who come up with the most innovative ideas—often based on their own life experiences and customer feedback.
The key is to create a company culture and workspace that inspires creativity, productivity and collaboration.
Establishing a Culture of Innovation
The most successful companies support innovation by providing employees:
- Jobs and tasks that are challenging and interesting. Employees are often more creative when doing work that is strategic or problem-solving in nature.
- The freedom and autonomy to decide how to solve problems and create opportunities for new products and services. Employees need to have the opportunity to take risks, such as experimenting with new ways of doing things, without worrying about job security or fear of failure.
- Trust and openness to express dissenting ideas, which can be a starting point for collaboration and innovation.
- Unstructured time to develop ideas that solve problems or create new products or services. This is hard for many companies because not all innovation will be profitable, and it may be seen as the time that could be spent doing something more tangible.
- Opportunities for collaboration between people with different expertise and perspectives. When you get people to openly discuss their ideas and work together, creativity happens.
- Having supportive leadership. Creativity can be stifled when supervisors are opposed to change and view it as a threat to their authority. Supportive management will when an idea has merit and when to move forward or pull the plug.
Configuring an innovative workplace
Creating a work environment that supports outside-the-box thinking and inspires creativity can maximize your potential for innovation. Here are some suggestions from innovative companies that are designed to improve productivity, collaboration and growth.
- Square, a financial services company, is experimenting with hot desking, which allows employees to work where they want when they want within the constraints of the office. No one has an assigned desk, but employees can work from tables and desks or on couches and chairs—whatever’s most comfortable. These types of non-traditional approaches can also boost productivity from an ergonomics standpoint, particularly for aging workers. Additionally, this idea allows for organic collaboration that might not occur in a static work environment.
- Skullcandy uses movable desks that can be configured and reconfigured for individual or collaborative work—or as employees need a change.
- Samsung recognizes that creativity does not come sitting in front of computer monitors. So the company built large outdoor areas between floors and encouraged people to hang out in the shared spaces. The model allows employees from different areas of the company—like engineers and salespeople—to “bump into” each other and spurs unexpected creativity and collaboration.
- Salesforce is improving work-life balance and helping people de-stress with pets in the office. Having your pet at the office means you’re not worried about leaving them home alone or running home to let them out. They’re also good as a conversation starter for employees. Plus, they give their owners an excuse to take a break for walks, which can boost productivity in the long run.
- SWA Group, a landscape architecture firm in San Francisco, has a culture wall in its office, which includes photos of people and work samples that employees use to draw inspiration. The culture wall can be used for brainstorming new ideas or collaborating on projects.
- Google incorporates indoor green spaces into its office layout, including an indoor orange grove in its Tel Aviv office. Space helps employees disconnect from work by making them feel like they’re sitting outside on a park bench.
Building a company culture and physical workspace that inspires innovation is a matter of finding the right formula for your organization. Diversity has also proven to be a large driver of innovation, so make sure that you have procedures in place to promote the hiring and successful management of a diverse workforce.
To discover what works for you, it’s important to talk to your employees about what inspires them to be creative. And consider hiring employees with an entrepreneurial spirit—also known as intrapreneurs. They’re a natural fit for companies that want to innovate because they are willing to take initiative and risks for the benefit of the organization. In fact, many intrapreneurs are just as committed to your company’s success as your owners.
Companies need to see innovation as an integral part of their corporate culture and recognize their employees who make contributions to efforts that will increase company profitability and chances for success. While there may be barriers to innovation along the way, working past these and knowing that not all ideas will come to fruition will allow you to be a more open and creative organization in long run.
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