Small Business: Encouraging innovation

If you want to create an environment that

If you want to create an environment that encourages innovative thinking, you need to commit to it at the highest corporate level and make it a priority that's clearly defined with measurable goals and expectations, say experts. (April 1, 2011) (Credit: MCT)

Jamie Herzlich

Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

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Innovation just doesn't happen. It has to be nurtured and inspired at every level of an organization, and even then it's very difficult to achieve.

If you want to create an environment that encourages innovative thinking, you need to commit to it at the highest corporate level and make it a priority that's clearly defined with measurable goals and expectations, say experts.

"It must be intentional," explains Glenn Ebersole, director of strategic marketing at LMA Consulting Group, a business management consultancy in Lancaster, Pa. "It must be demonstrated by the leadership and communicated throughout the entire organization."

If it's done haphazardly, you'll never achieve your desired results. With that said, here's some top ways to inspire innovation at your own company:

Define innovation: Develop a clearly defined and focused vision for innovation within your business, says Ebersole. "It needs to be a statement that shows that the ownership and executive management of the company is committed to innovation," he notes.

Set goals: Create measurable goals to define what you want and need to get out of innovation, suggests Ebersole, who outlines 20 tips at lmaconsulting.cc

/articles/initiate_and_inspire

_innovation.php.

Foster open environment: Establish an environment that will allow everyone to speak freely when working with his or her teams, says Ebersole. "There must be an environment that fosters and allows people to offer up their ideas," he notes.

Prioritize: If you hold monthly or quarterly management meetings, put innovation on the agenda, says Robert Brands, founder of InnovationCoach.com in Coral Springs, Fla., and author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation" (Wiley; $34.95) "It's so hard to dedicate specific time," says Brands. "At least make it part of the discussion so it has to be addressed."

Think broader: Don't limit innovation to just the product or service itself, says Brands. Think about it in broader terms (i.e., how the customer gets your product, how's it being delivered and experienced, etc.). These also offer areas of opportunity for innovation, he says.

Get firsthand experience: When was the last time you really experienced your own product or service? asks Brands. Call in as if you were a customer or retry the product you sell, he notes. "It's amazing when you do that, you find out quickly what you need to improve."

Find innovative thinkers: If you surround yourself with innovative thinkers, you're more likely to have innovative ideas, says Anil Dhundale, executive director of the Long Island High Technology Incubator (LIHTI) and Stony Brook incubators, which support early-stage, high-tech companies at four locations between Stony Brook University and Calverton. "You need people you can sound off of that also have innovative thinking," says Dhundale, noting this can be employees or trusted advisers.

Don't fear failure: Not every idea is going to be a winner, but you've got to be willing to listen and experiment, says Dhundale. "You have to take the risk and expect that most of the innovative ideas will fail," he says. "Inevitably you'll have a success."

Give credit: It's important to credit the innovator, says Dhundale. David Smith, president of Sound Interventions located at LIHTI at Stony Brook, recognizes this. "You have to be sensitive to what the motivations of each individual are," says Smith, whose start-up is developing therapeutic ultrasound equipment for the treatment of hypertension. "Researchers want acknowledgment for scientific achievement."

Communicate: Innovation doesn't happen without communication, says Smith. His company, which will launch its first product in 2013, holds formal staff meetings weekly but also impromptu gatherings daily. "You need constant and clear communication," he says.

Other inspiring ideas

  • Establish an innovation team
  • Brainstorm
  • Develop a forum to share ideas
  • Create/foster a fun and challenging environment
  • Develop a system for tracking and managing innovation

Source: Glenn Ebersole