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Fostering Innovation in Your Startup

Fostering Innovation in Your Startup

Prolific writer and Nobel Prize laureate, William Faulkner, is credited with the following quote:

I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning.”

Certainly, writing the “Next Great American Novel” is quite different from developing the next disruptive technology. But there is no doubt that entrepreneurs can benefit by approaching innovation with a similar mindset.

Intentional Innovation

It’s easy, and perhaps a bit idealistic, to assume that innovation is simply born from chance strokes of creative genius. While that certainly can (and does) happen, relying on unpredictable bursts of imagination can put you at a major disadvantage when it comes to problem-solving and growing your business. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways innovative thinking can be nurtured through intentional company practices.

Creativity as a Part of Startup Culture

The best way to make space for creative innovation within your startup is to build it into your company culture. Of course, including something about innovation in your mission or core values is great, but the only way to affect real results is by implementing tangible changes. There are a few ways this can be achieved:

  1. Cultivating diversity of thought

If your team lacks variation, it’s likely that you will fall into a rut when it comes to new ideas. The best way to bring fresh ideas into the mix is to prioritize bringing on teammates with varying backgrounds, skill sets, experiences, ages, etc. Of course, you want to build a team that works well together, but be careful that you’re not surrounding yourself with an echo-chamber. Good leaders can recognize the areas they may be lacking expertise in. This mindset will benefit the overall hiring process.

  1. Withholding judgment

If your team feels like their ideas will be met with dismissiveness or disapproval, they will be unlikely to speak up in the future. Your team should feel like they can present new ideas and perspectives without fear of being perceived negatively. When brainstorming, it’s helpful to set the rule that in that space, no idea is a stupid idea.

  1. Being open to risk-taking

When it comes to your business, taking risks can be daunting. But spending time brainstorming is futile if you’re never trying out new ideas. Part of your overall process should include a strategy for testing new ideas, and like they say, “if you never try, you’ll never know.”

  1. Learning how to “fail fast”

The other side of taking risks is learning how to “fail fast.” Failure is an inevitable part of any pursuit – creative or otherwise, but it doesn’t have to be for naught. Not only is failure educational, but it can be a great means by which to further develop problem-solving skills within your team.

The bottom line is, you want to establish a diverse environment in which your team feels comfortable sharing new ideas and taking initiative. Not every idea will be put into practice, but keeping that door open can help ensure great ideas aren’t missed.

Innovating Through Strategic Creativity

In the mindset of setting and achieving goals, creative chaos just isn’t practical. Creativity can be channeled into productivity, but it does require some deliberation. A few steps you can take to provide structure to the creative process:

  • Providing time and space: Whether that be allotting time each week for your team to experiment individually or through monthly or quarterly collaborative brainstorming sessions, designating time for brainstorming keeps innovation from getting put on the back burner.
  • Solve a specific problem: When looking to solve a problem your business is facing, crowdsourcing ideas can offer fresh perspectives and interesting insights. To add direction to a brainstorming session, present your team with a real problem the business is facing and have them discuss possible solutions.
  • Documenting ideas: Someone may have a great idea, but ideas can get easily lost in the day-to-day running of your business. A way to prevent ideas from getting lost in the shuffle is to establish some means of submission and review. This could be done through surveys, a designated company email address where ideas can be sent, or even a Slack channel. Set aside time to review these ideas and follow up on those that are timely and feasible.

The Benefits of Intentional Creativity

The benefits of encouraging innovation in your business are many. Not only does it help to develop your employees’ skill sets, increase engagement, and encourage cross-team collaboration, but when done well, it can become a valuable part of your business’ overall growth strategy. And the more you do it, the more it becomes a habitual way of approaching problems.