Three Tips for Inspiring Innovation on Your Team

Cartoon light bulbWhether in schools, athletics, or in corporations, inspiring innovation on your team in order to do something smarter, faster, or more effectively, is likely something your organization would benefit from.

Innovation is a common buzz word now – but it is something that throughout history people have worked to accomplish in order to move their business or culture one step further ahead of the competition.

But as complicated as sometimes we try to make it sound, innovation is most often either a MODIFICATION of an existing idea or the MARRIAGE of two existing ideas in a new or unexpected way…

Consider this very simple equation: NI = OI + YI

The “NI” is the “new idea” (innovation) you are seeking… and it is almost always the result of “OI” which are the various “old ideas” from the past, and “YI” (which may be only a tiny component of the whole equation) which, as the key to the equation, is “Your improvement”.

Let’s look at a couple of examples…

Galileo actually stole the idea for a telescope. He took an original invention by Hans Lippershey, made it a bit longer and more powerful, and now gets full credit four hundred years later for being the genius behind that invention.  But it was truly just his insights into how something that  already existed could be modified and improved that won him that honor.

And who invented the telephone? Well, Alexander Graham Bell is most often the stock answer… But that happened only after Bell looked at a failed patent that Antonio Meucci had filed in 1874.  Meucci was too poor, the story goes, to send in the $10 patent fee.

So… when Meucci’s patent was denied, Bell entered his name into the equation and after a few modifications earned the fame that he now enjoys.

Innovation may also include the genius of marrying two current products or ideas to create something that can be used in an unexpected way.  One very obvious example of that innovative style is when someone had the idea to place a low-tack reusable adhesive onto a small part of a note pad.  Spencer Silver created the low-tack adhesive… but it was Art Fry who thought of putting onto paper for use as a bookmark – and Post-it notes were born!

If you want people in your organization to innovate, though, you need to be aware of these three tips for inspiring innovation on your team.


1. They need the permission (or determination) to challenge assumptions

Airplanes were once thought impossible.  Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Academy, in 1895 had said “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”   Luckily, the Wright Brothers did not accept his assumptions – and in Kitty Hawk, NC., on Dec 17th, 1903, they proved Kelvin wrong.

Orville and his brother refused to let that doubt diminish their determination!

And the economy? It was once thought by a prominent Yale economics professor that “stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Irving Fischer, the Yale Professor, shared that in 1929 with the DOW having just reached a high of 400.

Luckily, investors and corporations refused to accept that limiting belief – and they had permission to seek greater success than was believed possible.


2. They need the opportunity to experiment

In his book Drive, Dan Pink describes how “FedEx” days have helped Atlassian (an Australian software company) grow significantly over the past few years.  They simply implemented one day “breaks” where people could do anything they wanted – provided it was NT part of their normal job description – as long as they presented it to their co-workers when they returned the next day.  Giving your people to freedom to experiment and then absolutely, positively have to deliver something creative overnight… that inspires innovation!


3. They need appreciation for their efforts

This final tip is perhaps the most important – because it doesn’t say for their successful efforts.  It is important to reward the attempt, not only the accomplishment, in order to encourage people to risk and fail and learn and risk again.

You will almost always get more of whatever it is you reward.  Make a conscious choice to reward your people for bringing you new ideas and creative uses for existing products – and soon your team will become known for the innovation you desire.


If your team is in a rut and would benefit from an Atlanta team building event to boost their energy, morale, productivity, and communication skills, consider contacting Sean to discuss how I can help to recharge the batteries of the people in your organization!