Today, a culture of innovation is the main reason for the success of many hyper-growth companies like Groupon and Zappos. They use creative thinking to attack problems of all sizes, while many other companies are too afraid to use creativity that way. Since we live in a business world that is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up with the competition, so creativity and innovation are the only things that can truly set you apart.
Creativity and innovation can make you stand out from the crowd and have become the true currency of success. But, most companies don’t unleash their most valuable resource including creativity, imagination, and original thinking. Meanwhile, hyper-growth companies take an approach to fostering creativity at all levels of their organizations, and deploy creative thinking to attack all problems.
According to Inc., here's what you can do to develop a culture of innovation at your company:
Fuel Passion. With a passionate team and a sense of purpose, you can accomplish anything. Steve Jobs wanted to "put a ding in the universe," Whole Foods Market wanted to become the world's leading natural supermarket retailer, and Pixar wanted to reinvent the animated film industry. Your purpose must be your own, but the bigger your purpose is, the more passion it can create.
Celebrate Ideas. If you want your team to be creative, you need to establish an environment that rewards them for doing so. Celebrating creativity is not only about handing out bonus checks for great ideas— it should also be celebrated with praise and opportunities.
Foster Autonomy. According to a study by Harvard, there is a correlation between people who have the ability to call their own shots, and the value of their creative output. An employee who has to run every detail by her boss for approval will become numb to the creative process. The key is to provide a clear message of what results you are looking for or what problem you want the team to solve.
Encourage Courage. Netflix is known as much for its culture as for its innovative business model. They have built a business that is growing fast by allowing individuals the freedom to take creative risks without judgment. In fact, they tell their employees, “Say what you think, even if it is controversial. Make tough decisions without agonizing excessively. Take smart risks. Question actions inconsistent with our values."
Fail Forward. In most companies, people are so afraid of making mistakes that they don't pursue their dreams. For example, James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson Vacuum cleaner, "failed" at more than 5,100 prototypes before getting it just right. Almost every breakthrough innovation in history came after countless setbacks, mistakes, and "failures." The great innovators weren't smarter or inherently more talented, but they didn't let setbacks extinguish their imagination. Failing forward means taking risks and increasing the rate of experimentation.
Think Small. A manufacturing company ITW makes products from industrial packaging to power systems and electronics to food equipment to construction products. It is a profitable $16-billion company that is almost 100 years old, but it is in a very traditional industry. The leaders at ITW believe that being nimble, hungry, and entrepreneurial are the ingredients for business success, so any time a business unit reaches $200 million in revenue, the division "mutates" into two $100 million units. The company would rather have 10 innovative $100 million units than a single, bureaucratic, and $1 billion unit.
Maximize Diversity. Ziba, an innovation-consulting firm in Portland, maximizes the value of a diverse workforce. The company's 120 employees are from 18 different countries and speak 26 languages. According to its president, "genetic diversity breeds creativity, much like it does with biology." The company also has an Ambassador Program, which allows employees to spend three months working in other disciplines, which helps to create an understanding of another world.