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Corporate Innovation: Get More Creative than Your Competitors

It’s a simple axiom that many businesses fail to heed: Evolve or die.

Whether the company is large or small, in today’s fast-paced commercial sector, it’s no longer enough to simply be complacent with the status quo. Businesses must find new product ideas and explore new ways of capturing consumer attention and interest to remain viable. This requires a creative spark that, over time, may diminish both in the boardroom and in the manufacturing lab.

With more and more start-up companies flooding the marketplace, long-established corporations and companies must rethink what it means to harness innovation and leverage their available assets to transform and thrive.

Such sustainability depends on the foresight of corporate executives to tap the right people to generate and produce potentially transformative ideas. And it requires leaders and managers who understand the creative process and know how to prompt performance from a team whose varied backgrounds and approaches might not seem best suited for the job.

This is not a new concept, but it has become a timely one.

In 2008, the Harvard Business Review convened a two-day symposium at Harvard Business School to hear from purveyors of innovation across several industries, including design consultants, technology pioneers and pharmaceutical leaders. The resulting dialogue helped open eyes.

One takeaway was that true breakthroughs typically occur through the coupling of people from different backgrounds, disciplines and skill sets. Empowering managers to encourage employees to integrate their identities into the creative process also can spark innovation. Those same managers also can provide a catalyst for creativity by looking outside the company walls for possible collaborators.

Leaders trying to bring focus to a creative environment must be mindful of where an idea is in process, allow the team to find its footing internally and remain open to subversive approaches that may not prove successful, but still should be attempted.

Two similar reports in Forbes magazine and Entrepreneur considered how leaders can best enable innovation among their teams. Here are some of the findings:

  • Forget the Old Rules: In the past, companies held strategic planning meetings, conducted market research and culled quarterly forecasts while considering key performance indicators of a possible new approach or product. Today’s managers should forego those dated formalities and allow employees to forge new methodologies that conform better with fluid ideas and rapid implementation.
  • Communication is Key: Teamwork thrives on trust, but before a creative team can find its distinct rhythm and begin to collaborate, there must be open communication among the team and a willingness to challenge and learn from each other.
  • Don’t Be Afraid: Leaders must embody change, embrace risks and find opportunity in new ideas. This means also rewarding risk and being tolerant to mistakes made by those who take a risk.
  • Welcome and Encourage Contribution: Whereas start-up companies often have a tireless drive fueled by potential, established companies employ an institutional knowledge that cannot be matched. There should be no boundaries when seeking innovation, and every employee’s knowledge, culled from years of accumulated experience and familiarity with brands and technologies, should be fair game to tap and utilize.
  • Stare Down the Apocalypse: The old adage “go big or go home” accepts that there is a 50 percent chance of failure. And that’s OK. By acknowledging the doomsday potential that an idea might not work, leaders can prompt thoughtful consideration of the key question – why – which can help them and their team members identify weak points and areas that can be improved. It also can galvanize the group toward the shared goal of ensuring failure doesn’t occur.

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