You don’t have to work for Google to innovate

You really don’t need to work for Google in order to have and deliver great ideas.  For that matter, you don’t have to work in any of the 49 other companies named in the 2023 Fast Company list of the most innovative in the world either.  For sure there is something special about working for an organisation with such a high profile and a reputation for cutting edge developments, but it is a mistake to think that they have the monopoly on innovation.

You don’t even have to work in a recognisably ‘creative’ company – you just have to believe in the simple principle oft delivered as a Thomas Edison quote – There’s always a better way.  Helping teams to feel safe in believing in this fairly simple principle is a good starting point for a journey of continuous improvement, and guess what?  Most of the ideas of how things can be improved will already be in the heads of your employees.  So the challenge then becomes…….how the heck do you get them out?  

Here are a few principles to get you started:

Encourage and recognise the right mindset – this is vital.  It’s a fascinating irony that we all understand on a conceptual level the benefits of continuous improvement and want to be part of a high performing team, but that our own behaviours still manage to get in the way of that.  In this respect, innovation is no different to any other practice that requires people to act differently – it’s easier to attribute failure to a third party and just sooo much easier to wait for someone else to do it.  If people feel safe and trust is high, then defensive behaviours can be eradicated.

Welcome every idea, no matter how small.  Most people who are interested in improvement have heard of the ‘marginal gains’ work accredited to Sir David Brailsford when he was Head of British Cycling, which is based on the principle that a 1% gain across a range of areas will aggregate to a much larger overall improvement.  It’s not rocket science, but I still remember being told by a CEO within the health service that we were ‘looking for big ticket improvements, not the small stuff’.  Not only short sighted but also an utterly demotivating idea stopper.

Provide a platform to enable knowledge sharing to take place and, word to the wise, there’s no need to wait for a hi-tech solution to this.  Just ensuring that the right conditions are in place to encourage people to share ideas and their associated successes and failures helps to gain and maintain momentum in continuous improvement.  This was beautifully illustrated to me recently by Aster, a housing developer and landlord, when they launched their internal Transformation Network with around 100 eager networkers.

Give people space to try out their ideas and explore for themselves (and as a team) whether something will work or not.  Idea testing is a really important step in enabling a team (and the wider organisation) to sense check whether an initiative will actually lead to the improvements intended.

If you really want to innovate then you have to make it everyone’s business - give them all a voice and ensure that you listen.