No matter how strong your business is at the moment, your future success may depend on new ideas. “You may not feel a sense of urgency,” says entrepreneur Josh Linkner, author of “Hacking Innovation,” adding, “but that’s exactly the right time to make sure that you’re reinventing and innovating.”
Use this checklist to create a sustained culture of innovation in your business:
Set down-to-earth goals
Innovation doesn’t have to mean a world-changing invention—instead, aim for small improvements. Not only will this feel more achievable by your team, but these small advances can lead to big transformations over time. Encourage what Linkner calls “micro-innovations” by launching everyday experiments to see what works: Shake up the format of your weekly meetings, or find a better way to perform a regular task.
Invite ideas from everyone
The people closest to your products, services, processes and customers are the ones most likely to spot opportunities for improvements. Tell everyone on your team that their ideas are welcome. Ask questions to provoke input: How might they serve customers more quickly? What’s not working in the company? Encourage them to speak up, and resist the urge to toss cold water on far-out ideas.
Dig into your customer experience
Consider every customer touch point and ask how you might make it better. The more closely you examine that experience, the more opportunities you’ll discover. For example, a restaurateur can look at all the different ways a customer interacts with the business. Could you take a different approach to answering the phone or simplify the website to better highlight the menu?
Create time and space to capture ideas
New tools and routines can encourage the habit of creative thinking. Set up a bulletin board in a common area. Posting ideas in the open may spark others to begin contributing related thoughts. Hold a “new ideas” meeting every week or two. To get things going, toss out questions—ask if anyone has noticed a customer problem recently or heard about a new competitor.
Hire for diversity
“If everyone looks, sounds and acts the exact same way and went to the same college and so on, you’ll have a bland environment that’s not going to foster innovation,” says Linkner. The more varied the backgrounds and strengths of your team, the more perspectives the team will bring to a problem. As you build your team, look for opportunities to bring in people who enrich it with different points of view.
Recognize and reward efforts
“If you want innovation to become part of your DNA, you want to build rituals, rewards and reinforcements around it,” says Linkner. Celebrate new ideas, regardless of outcome. Find ways to reward people for coming forward. Perhaps every new idea earns a sandwich from the corner deli. Experimenting will yield some misses on your way to finding the hits that improve your business, so don’t just tolerate failures—embrace them.