I had the opportunity to hear Tom Kelley, the General Manager of IDEO and the author of The Art of Innovation, speak on fostering innovation in your organization. Creating an “idea friendly environment” isn't just for tech companies. As you may have read in our earlier posts, getting ideas and opinions other than your own only strengthens your decision making, no matter what the industry.
One of Kelley’s points is that you need to “lower the bar for prototyping.” By this he means that we need to allow for ideas in their infancy to be discussed and vetted. People should not be uncomfortable raising a barely formed idea because otherwise they may waste months polishing a bad idea before presenting it.
How do you encourage an environment like this? Well, you start by challenging your employees to keep learning. Make your business the one where people are comfortable asking questions and challenging the status quo. You encourage groups of employees to brainstorm the pressing questions that your business faces, from the smallest to the largest issues. Most importantly, you need to model that behavior - question the relevance of longstanding business practices and continually look for improvement.
What happens if you don’t do this? Kelley used the example of his home town of Akron, Ohio. When he was growing up Akron produced 100% of the tires for the cars built in North America. That was until radial tires were invented. In eighteen years they went from producing 100% to 0%. Proof that if you aren’t moving forward you will definitely be left behind.