Some of the greatest innovations were the result of failures: corn syrup, Pyrex, the Post-It-Note adhesive. All failed attempts that ended up having other uses that made their company's millions.
Stewarding great ideas into innovative new products and services that succeed in the market is tricky business. Below are four key things leaders can do to ensure their employees have the mindshare and space to not only invent new products and services but also get them to market.
1. Provide time and space for employees to be creative versus buried under the day to day work flow. Creativity is the foundation of all innovation. Google used to give each employee one day or 20% of their time at work to focus on projects of their choosing. From this program many successful innovations emerged including Gmail.
2. Align Rewards. Recognize employees, teams, and supervisors who conceive of and design innovative new products, services or internal procedures and policies. Rewarding ideas for innovations is just as important as rewarding completed innovations if you want to instill the value of the new in your organization's culture. Corning has done this for over a century and they keep innovating as a result.
3. Tolerate risk by rewarding failure. Create an organizational culture that values learning from failure versus blaming. Start with how you treat your own staff, because cultural norms always roll downhill. Risk tolerance is evident when failure is viewed as a necessary step in the process of innovation. Trial and error is involved in all new inventions. Thomas Edison made over 10,000 attempts before he succeeded at making the light bulb.
4. Open up communication channels across, up and down. The ability for employees to communicate throughout their organization creates a culture where ideas or shared and played with. Organizations that encourage employees to communicate with a leader two levels up or peers in different functions, have a higher degree of innovation than companies that don’t. Leaders who encourage informal communication build companies that also have higher retention rates. These types of companies are simply better places to work and foster the conditions that allow innovation to thrive.