Does Your Company’s Hierarchy Stifle Innovative Thinking?

by: Natalie Giroux

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” – Dr. Linus Pauling

In most innovation-based companies, the CTO, architects or senior designers are relied upon for the key innovations driving the business. Because of their experience and positions, innovative thinking and problem-solving are expected from these employees.

Unfortunately younger, lower-ranked (but no less creative) employees, including the most recent hires, are often afraid to speak up about their own innovative ideas. To encourage more widespread innovation, these individuals must also see that their ideas are welcomed even if they are not immediately applicable or implementable.

One way to make the work environment more conducive to innovation from all employees is to hold regular brainstorming sessions.  Open the floor to all staff for solutions to problems or ideas to improve existing products.  It can be serious work, but have some fun with it!

Another good way to incite more employees to think outside the box is to award an “innovation prize” on a regular basis for the best new idea. The prize can be as simple as a plaque that moves around the office and can also be accompanied by a nominal gift (e.g. gift card). Again successful ideas need not imply something patentable, just some new thinking that advances your company in some way.  Recognition by peers and management is an important motivator, particularly for new staff members trying to make a name for themselves.

To encourage the expression of innovative thinking, some companies have implemented anonymous internal invention disclosure processes for patentable subject matter. Employees can submit invention disclosures through an internal web site or through a colleague that is not involved in patent selection. Invention disclosures are periodically judged strictly on their value without consideration for the rank or position of the inventor. If the invention is deemed implementable or patentable, then anonymity is lifted so the employee can benefit from having originated the idea. 

However you do it, imagine how successful your company could be if, rather than relying on tired solutions from the same old soldiers, every employee was encouraged, inspired and rewarded to think creatively to solve problems.

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