Innovation is a word that’s been heard on the lips of more CEOs, read in more broadsheet papers, and detailed in more business magazines in the last ten months than ever before. It’s well regarded that those businesses that fail to innovate risk death; consider the sad fates of longstanding companies like Woolworths, Polaroid, Blockbuster, and Borders over the last ten years. But how, as an individual, can you incorporate innovation and creative thinking into your everyday working life, all while keeping up with the already manic pace of modern business?

1. Set aside time to think, and make personal goals.

Finding the time or head-space to think creatively can be tough. But clearly, it’s a vital part of developing innovative ideas and campaigns, and it’s critical to protect and cultivate it by setting aside time to do so. Last year, Google actually put in formal rules requiring every employee to dedicate one a day a week to side projects. This kind of focused, creative thinking builds a strong culture where ingenuity and change are embraced and valued. Whilst one full day a week might not be possible for everyone, consider taking a few hours a week to get out of your usual environment to think of and about new ideas – and how you might present them at the following week’s team meeting. Set yourself an unofficial goal to bring one or two new ideas, big or small, to each meeting.

2. Encourage conversation and collaboration.

Despite spending years honing professional techniques, it’s not unusual for even the best employees and departments to hit a mental block, or start churning out incremental variations on the same idea. This is precisely why it’s worth crowdsourcing creative ideas from outside of your immediate environment. The people you work with — colleagues, clients, suppliers, and customers — are your most valuable resources. You might have some wonderful innovators hidden away in your organisation that you’ve not yet tapped into, and the more people you have contributing, the more power you’ll have to generate and develop great ideas. Consultancy firms such as Accenture, PwC, and KPMG have built successful businesses on this premise. Novant Health used Mindjet’s SpigitEngage innovation management platform to ask 3,000 of their 3 million-strong nursing community what they felt could be done to improve patient care, rather than relying solely on their senior management.

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3. Embrace failure and encourage risk.

In a recent piece for Wired Insights, I stated that I’ve often found that the quickest way to kill creativity is to institutionalise a corporate culture that punishes failure. In that piece, I noted that “…it’s one thing to demand a high standard of output from employees – it’s quite another to say that, if their best efforts don’t work out, they risk being put on a performance improvement plan or worse. Yet this is so often what people say is the result of their attempts to risk something new in the name of innovation, and ultimately, business growth.” And I stand by it — working environments that welcome brave decisions and unusual thinking, whether it works first-time around or not, have been key to the success of so many of today’s household names. Mark Zuckerberg’s guiding philosophy, the “Hacker Way,” openly encourages Facebook employees to “make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time.” With the latest figures showing that global economic recovery is still anything but steady, and businesses are working even harder to innovate their way to success – now is surely the time to embrace failure and take calculated risks.

4. Start small, but aim high.

The words “change” and “innovation” can strike fear in the hearts of those too comfortable in their working routine. For those who may be hesitant about diving into the deep end, starting with small innovations and ideas can be an excellent segue, as they’re much less daunting and easier to implement. Think of innovation as a spectrum: at one end, smaller, incremental changes can be introduced before moving up to the more disruptive and transformative innovations on the other end.

All levels of the spectrum have their own place and purpose. Let’s put this into context for a moment by thinking about your office’s email policy. CIOs everywhere are fighting a constant battle to keep data storage costs down, and many tackle it by attempting to reduce the size of employees’ email inboxes. A big change would be to ban internal emails and force people to use a social collaboration website instead. A smaller shift would be to ask employees to only send email to people who need to see it, rather than sending mass emails to their entire teams. Introducing small changes like this can make a real difference, but also act as a stepping stone to build up to bigger, more transformational ideas. Likewise, once budget holders realise the benefits of incremental changes, they will likely be less resistant to larger ones.

5. Engage the rest of the business.

The need to innovate and think creatively is a cross-departmental problem, but one that’s too often worked on by only a small group of people. Additionally, innovation efforts tend to be poorly communicated throughout the business. Whether your company already has a dedicated innovation team or is merely starting to consider the need for one, establishing a communications protocol around ideation, crowdsourcing, and implementation is a critical component of success. As mentioned earlier, it’s possible to start small if necessary – perhaps via a monthly meeting with representatives from each department to discuss and share best practices and new projects.

By embedding innovation, creative thinking, and collaboration into the core of your business, and adding it to you and your team’s daily work activities, you will ensure that you’re seen as being someone who adds value to your company – as well as making it much easier to complete tasks, execute projects successfully, and reach your own professional milestones and objectives.

Find out more on how Innovation Management Platforms Help Companies Stay Competitive.

By James Gardner

About the author

James Gardner is Senior Vice President of Products at Mindjet, the world leader in SaaS solutions for enterprise innovation management. He has over a decade of experience leading innovation strategy for large organisations, such as Lloyds Banking Group and the Department for Work and Pensions. James has also written several books about innovation, including “The Little Innovation Book,” “Sidestep and Twist,” and “Innovation and the Future Proof Bank,” all of which help others start practising innovation within their own organisations.

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