If everyone says they are innovative, what does that say? Innovation is so ubiquitous these days, it’s hard to get beyond the word and stay ahead of its definition. But if you’re a leader of an organization, you’re ultimately responsible for setting the stage for creative thinking. There are many ways to do this of course, but certain strategies have proven more successful than others.


Innovation needs time

The question is, how much time? Different companies have different answers. At 3M, they have a 15% culture. So employees dedicate 15 percent of their time to innovation. One of the most famous results of this 15 percent culture is the Post-It note.

Google gives innovation the time it deserves as well. This tech giant allows 20 percent of an employee’s time to be dedicated to idea creation, during which employees successfully established Gmail and Google Earth.


Innovation needs space

A culture of innovation often stems from people being comfortable in their own workspaces. But providing various spaces and places where different types of work are emphasized can also encourage innovation. For example, Zappos optimizes its campus for innovation by giving employees various workspace options like a rooftop patio, a miniature golf course, and perhaps most importantly, a nap room.


Innovation needs recognition

If leaders want innovation to play a major role in their organization, they have to elevate it. In other words, they need to not only talk about it, but also to openly reward those who are doing it. Some companies offer compensation and gifts for those who demonstrate progressive ideas, and doing so acknowledges the importance of innovation throughout the organization.

Other companies, like Firma, have a points system. When team members present an innovative idea, they earn points. Later, they can turn their points into gifts. But these aren’t generic gifts—these are gifts that reflect the company’s work-life balance mission. So an employee’s points can be traded in to pay for a babysitter so they can have a night out, for example. But they can’t be traded in for a desk trophy.

Some corporations reward innovation with pay bonuses and extended vacations, while others simply ensure they recognize their innovative people in company-wide ways.


Innovation needs interaction

Sometimes a key way to innovate at the organizational level is to ensure leaders are inspiring innovation at the personal level too. Encouraging dialogue is important—innovation needs continuous conversation. Rather than challenging ideas, leaders should be allowing people to openly share them and leaders should actively listen without judgment.

One way to do this is to create an organized program. Foursquare, for example, has an idea showcase called Demo Days, in which employees can present innovations in the form of a venture capital pitch. In this way, an audience that’s listening isn’t just a nice idea—it’s guaranteed.

Finally, remember that innovation doesn’t happen; it must be led. The right leadership teams can ensure that innovation thrives by giving it the time, space, recognition, and interaction it deserves to permeate throughout the organization and truly drive change.

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