Innovation propels companies into the future. However, a company must recognize and inspire innovation at all levels. Calling (yet) another brainstorming session to order isn't enough to jump-start
and maintain innovation. Instead, managers should create the right physical and mental environments to inspire innovation.
 

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Create a mental and physical environment where innovation is expected and accepted. For example, view mistakes as springboards to progress instead of dead ends. Accept new ideas and physical objects instead of demanding uniformity in the workspace--the idea is to get away from "standard issue."

Communicate the need for innovation at all levels. Explain the big picture to all staff members.

Watch your language and behavior. Discuss "opportunities" rather than "problems." See your job as encouraging, coaching, inspiring the staff to make breakthroughs and be creative and to trust you to respond to their needs and ideas.

Acknowledge new ideas and innovative methods immediately even if you know the idea or method has been tried before. Perhaps now the time is right for an old idea. Keep track of what you've tried.

Introduce physical or mental changes to keep employees from returning to habitual ways of thinking. Turn problem "opportunities" and physical objects upside down. Ask employees to mentally walk around questions, to draw issues and to bring their personal skills and expertise into the mix.

Cross-train staff whenever possible. Employees need insight into how other departments and teams work so they can see how their position fits in.

Set realistic goals and measurements for innovation. For example, "We need to cut customer complaints by 25 percent within the next 30 days." Follow up with rewards and recognition when employees reach their goals.

Oh yes. And think out of the box. No great idea ever came from playing it safe.