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Ideas always seem to come to us at the strangest times. In the shower. At the middle of the night. During a traffic jam. No matter where we are or what we are doing, ideas can pop up unexpectedly. Sometimes, these wisps of creative energy are duds. Yet, every once in a while, there’s a golden nugget of opportunity.

Just imagine for a minute what could happen if you gathered these idle ideas from your team, organization, or business network. Is someone you know the owner of a spark that will ignite a multimillion-dollar opportunity that will transform your industry and possibly even people’s lives? Better yet, can your executive board finally fulfill its dream of digital transformation?

For most executives, the answer is, “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, most business cultures stifle our human instinct to be ingenious and creative. As a result, employees tend to leave their ideas to the wayside and continue with the status quo. However, it does not have to be that way.

Build your brand legacy through an innovation culture

Day after day, we sit in meetings discussing sales growth, efficiency, profitability, and budgets. None of these topics truly invoke our imaginations or transform how things work. According to James J. Piacentino, senior advisor to the office of the CEO at SAP, “Building a brand legacy is a multichannel process. When people of all levels are given room to think beyond the four walls of their organization, leadership jumpstarts creativity and maximizes business impact.”

In their article “Inspiring the Corporate Entrepreneur,” Carter Cast and David Schonthal beautifully sum up why such an innovation mindset is so critical:

“Giving people permission to question sparks excitement about problem solving. From questioning comes the quest to innovate, with strong intrinsic motivations – to create something of substance that will help or delight. Dormant entrepreneurs within the organization are given a reason to awaken – especially if their organization changes its tune.”

This entrepreneurial spirit cannot be found within the four walls of a boardroom. Rather, it’s hidden in a cubicle down the hall, on the plant or warehouse floor, and even within your physical stores. Your future innovators are all the people who touch your brand – your employees, third parties, partners, and customers. The trick is knowing how to recognize, reinvent, formulate, and maintain all of that collective genius and finding that one idea that can spark unimaginable change.

Four steps that turn your endless string of ideas into innovation reality

Every innovation starts small. Whether we are talking about three teenagers tinkering in a garage, a startup formed by a group of former colleagues, or an incubator financed by a global conglomerate, this one truth always remains the same. By starting small, you allow yourself to fail without any significant consequences – except maybe a few dollars. More important, you can give the time needed to learn, iterate, and fail over and over again – until the new innovation proves to be a viable product or service model. When you are ready to go to market, you then can scale your business model according to consumer demand.Thanks to the digital economy, every business can build a brand based on entrepreneurship that is open to ideas and willing to nurture them into opportunities for expansion, revenue growth, and entry into new markets.  

Not sure how to get started? Here are four steps that can help you get on your way toward building a legacy of innovation.

1.       Ideate. To get ideas, you must ask for them. Although this is a chance for your employees to exercise their creative genius, you cannot accept just any idea. You must provide a business problem or market opportunity that everyone should consider when submitting an idea. Not only does this get people thinking about the long-term potential, but it also gets them thinking like entrepreneurial business people.

2.       Collaborate.No single idea should stand on its own. Sometimes one idea can piggyback on another with astonishing results. For example, someone may have an idea on how to reformulate a gas mixture to yield zero emissions. At the other side of the building, someone may have created a delivery system that is more environmentally friendly. But, if these two ideas are put together, these two employees may have found a way to upend a market and create value every consumer wants: sustainable products that protect our planet.

3.       Validate. Of the hundreds of ideas given, only a handful may be true contenders. To separate good ideas from potential innovations, they must be challenged with a startup approach. By giving innovators room to develop a concept and consult with experts and stakeholders, they can test their idea and prove its value with concrete metrics and market indicators. In this case, failure is welcome – just be sure to fail fast and get back to work just as quickly.

4.        Incubate. Once an idea is proven to be worthy of investment, it can move to a pilot or initial roll-out phase. This is a great time to try out your soon-to-be innovation in real-world situations to determine what works and what doesn’t – and tweaking it along the way.

Is your business is ready for an innovation culture? Take our free innovation management framework self-assessment to find out today.

Please contact Ellen Davis.