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Can you put a Quota on Innovation?

June 6, 2011

Innovation is a hot commodity. Google and Apple, two brands almost synonymous with innovation are powerhouse brands with seemingly unlimited potential for growth and expansion. Groupon, arguably the most talked about newcomer over the past year, has seen a jump in valuation  from 6 to 15 to 25 billion dollars over the past six months, all for revolutionizing something as mundane as a coupon. One idea can be a game-changer and every company is in the race to find the next big thing. Companies can and should structure themselves to foster innovation. But to what extent is mandating innovation a good business plan?

Creativity is often born from constraint. This might suggest that a regimen of innovation is helpful. You could get employees to come up with 5 ideas a week to improve the company in any way from the actual product or service itself to a new direction for branding to even the physical set-up of the office. Alternately, you could have the entire company brainstorm on one focused aspect of the business for a week.

It can be good to prescribe these processes and enforce them according to a schedule. To put a quota on the end result, however, can be detrimental. Innovation which truly counts and which will revolutionize your business in some way can be hard to come by. It should be hard to come by. If your business is doing anything right, then there may not be a huge number of changes or new ideas which will incur dramatic and beneficial results.

So yes, you can reward or even require that your employees strive for innovation, to be constantly thinking. But to demand a certain number of innovative ideas may be impossible and putting an unnecessary strain on your company’s time and resources.

So go ahead, put a quota on how many ideas an employee or a department needs to come up with. It can get the gears turning and remind everyone to think outside the box occasionally.

If you decide to prescribe these innovative processes, you must have a business environment which is open to innovation. If Good Will Hunting taught us anything, it’s that the most insightful and productive minds can belong to someone in any position, even the janitor. Great ideas can come from any department so the entire company needs to get talking and sharing. To create an incubating environment for innovation, communication and open-mindedness are key.

Give employees a balance between freedom and accountabilityTrust that your employees will be productive and work towards company goals without strict supervision. At the same time, reserve periods for constructively critical feedback to keep everyone aligned with company strategy.

Welcome radical thinkingRevolutionary ideas may sound crazy or counter-intuitive at first, but these could be the ideas which create the most positive change. Keep open lines of communication. Let conflicting ideas meddle together and take time to consider them all before deciding on a plan of action.

Don’t innovate for innovation’s sakePrizing the new over the old can revitalize your business but should be a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. The point is to initiate innovative habits. You want ideas on the table though you’ll probably end up saying ‘no’ more often than saying ‘yes.’ Communicate this with your employees. Be clear that their innovative efforts will always be valued though they may not come to fruition.

Alas, innovation cannot be prescribed. Innovative thinking and re-structuring your company’s systems for communicating ideas can. The idea is to create an environment rich with the foundations for insightful change without forcing any particular outcome.

Do you think innovation can be assigned and planned for? Let us know in the comments.

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