Small business owners, by nature, are innovators. In fact, small businesses are leaders in job growth and innovation in the United States. However, once you implement your creative idea and start running your small business, it seems that time, money, and lack of resources prevent you from fostering further innovation.
Innovation within your company can help bolster your bottom line, but how can you spark creativity and foster innovation amongst your staff and colleagues? Here are some strategies for unleashing the creative spark within your workforce.
Encourage Input From Employees
Consider that some of your employees may have great ideas but are too shy to present them during staff meetings. How do you persuade them to share their innovative solutions? Create a platform, such as an online survey tool, where they can comfortably present their ideas.
Also, when employees present you with an issue, the best way to find a solution is to ask the employees how they think the problem should be solved. More often than not, employees have a good solution and just need a little encouragement to be resourceful. You could also ask your staff to brainstorm during a staff meeting.
Encourage Input From Customers
Since your customers are the ones you are trying to impress and attract, it seems fitting to use their input to spark innovation and solve problems that would make them more willing to use your products and services. A simple way to cull input from your customers is to simply ask them if they are happy with your service, or if there are any ways that they feel you can improve – you can use survey cards or have representatives call customers to ask for their feedback. In some cases, you may be surprised to not only have customers highlight trouble areas, but also offer potential solutions.
Once you gathered some feedback, take the information back to your staff and ask them to brainstorm ideas and solutions to solve any problems the customers have highlighted in your products or services. Plus, some of the customer feedback will be positive, which will provide your staff with a healthy dose of encouragement and fuel for further innovation.
Use creative approaches in your search for innovation. One company in Minneapolis sets the goal that 70% of the current year’s revenue should come from products that didn’t exist two years ago. You could also set up a game show style contest to encourage employees to compete against one another for the most innovative idea. Give employees time to work on prototypes or new projects, and have them present the projects before a board of judges. Even if you are presented with an idea that you do not wish to implement, use encouraging words to steer the ideas in the right direction. Reward the winning employee with a cash bonus, vacation time, or gift certificate.
Allow Time For Innovation To Grow
Think about where you are able to generate your best ideas: during long trips in a car, airplane, or train, in the shower, the gym, church, or while going to the bathroom. What about the office? There’s usually not enough time in the workday for staff to channel and replenish their creative juices. Consider giving staff a certain number of days – in addition to vacation time – when they are encouraged to find a reflective space where they can recharge their creative sparks.
Another strategy is to give employees a 24-work period to focus on and plan an innovative idea so that their regular workload does not get in the way. At the end of the 24-hour period, have the employees present their ideas and how it could benefit the company. This way, employees are given time to process an idea that they choose and solve something that they wanted to solve, rather than being forced to think about a company-wide issue.
Try On Someone Else’s Shoes
If you feel out of touch with your staff or not sure how to tackle an ongoing issue in your company, try stepping out of your role and play the part of another employee. This way, you get to see your company from another perspective and may find that thinking outside of your regular parameters helps you find a creative solution or innovative idea. A fresh set of eyes will certainly help you see details overlooked by someone who is in that position on a regular basis.
Sometimes the best ideas come from doing something new. Try a different route to work, for example, or completing simple tasks with your subdominant hand. You can also try a more daring challenge, such as skydiving, traveling to a new city, or overcoming a phobia. This fresh perspective will most likely spark your creativity and will lend to innovative ideas. Challenge your staff to also take on new challenges and experiences to foster new ideas.
In a time when change is constantly accelerating, it is important for small businesses to maintain fresh ideas and keep a constant flow of creative thinking.