Who develops the best ideas in your company? You might think that your product team consists of the best experts on what features your customers want most, but what about your customer success or sales team? The least suspecting members of your team might have ideas for your business that could help take it to the next level.
All companies want to create innovative products that customers can’t stop talking about. Creating the right company culture, centered on cultivating ideas anywhere and everywhere, will get you there faster. We’re going to go over actionable tips for creating an idea-driven company, no matter what your company stage or budget is.
Success Starts with a Mindset
Company culture cannot be stressed enough. No matter how amazing a product might be, the people designing, iterating on, and selling your product all need to come together to make it a success. Flexibility and communication are two key factors in creating a lasting business. Putting these two to work in your company frees employees up to think creatively.
The right mindset is the starting point for creating an idea-driven company. After all, you hired all of your employees because they are great at what they do. Each person brings work experience, life experience, and a unique perspective. That’s exactly what you need to improve your product offerings: a group of smart individuals who bring different viewpoints to the same product. Just like in your initial pitch to investors, poking holes in the status quo will change the way your team approaches development.
Create an environment in which your employees can grow and challenge conventions. Encouraging divergent thinking means that your employees will constantly be thinking of ways to improve the company. Whether that’s a design process or the way weekly meetings are run, lead by example and leave egos behind in order to stay open to new ideas for improving each and every part of your business. Innovation and convention can’t coexist peacefully. The greatest inventors and thinkers didn’t come up with their breakthrough ideas by following the status quo, instead, they jumped off the deep end and saw how far their whacky ideas could go.
Create Space for Thinking
Google made waves in 2004 when their 20% time policy came into the public eye during their IPO filing. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin explained that they had a policy that let employees use 20% of their work week to develop creative ideas that keep the company’s best interest in mind. Their famous 20% policy may no longer be in place, but they were on to something.
Setting aside time for creative ideas helped Google employees create Gmail and AdSense. Both of these products have become essential in the market and without the 20% policy they might have never seen the light of day. While giving your employees a full work day each week to come up with ideas may make you worry that your bottom line will suffer, it can certainly be modified to make sense for your business. Regardless of the amount of time you devote to creativity, the fact that you are creating time for it will get employees thinking.
Many entrepreneurs and startup employees live and die by their calendars. If it isn’t on the calendar, it might keep on falling off their to-do list. Instead, in order to create an idea-driven company, create a meeting or quarterly competition to get your employees to prioritize new ideas.
While it may seem counterintuitive to structure creative thinking, it just may be what it takes to get everyone’s thinking caps on. How do you currently aggregate feature requests and how do you prioritize them? If a new and potentially game changing idea comes in and gets lumped in with nice-to-have features, then your product is going to improve at a glacial pace. Find an organic way to encourage employees to get their thinking out of the box. Give them a structured way to present their ideas to the gatekeepers that can turn them into reality.
Invest in Ideas
If you want to create an idea driven company, you will need to invest time and money. Depending on the stage of your company, you may have much more of one than the other, but both are valuable when it comes to creating an innovative idea factory.
If you have a bootstrapped startup and all of your funds are already allocated, there is a wealth of inspiration both online and within the covers of books. Encourage employees to find and share TED talks and articles that inspire them to think differently. Aggregate all of these links and book recommendations in a Slack channel to allow them to refer back to them whenever they need a jolt of inspiration.
Depending on what area of the world your business is located in, there may be a number of industry meetups and events all around you. Check out options on Eventbrite or Meetup.com to find events where you can meet others who are working on similar problems. Getting a different perspective on what you’re trying to solve from someone who doesn’t work on it everyday could be just what you need to find a game changing approach.
When budget allows, take it a step further and encourage employees to go to industry conferences, as well as conferences based on their job function. Sending your marketer to the leading email marketing conference could inspire them to design and write emails that get the best conversion rates your company has ever seen. Sending your mobile app designer to an iOS event could help them create a redesign for your app that boosts engagement through the roof.
Getting ideas flowing doesn’t have to cost a lot. As long as employees are talking and learning from one another, you are well on your way to creating an idea driven company. Lunch and learn programs are a low cost way to make this happen in a fun and interactive way. One day a month, have employees explain how they approach their jobs and what challenges they are working on. How do they interact with the product and how do they think of it within the context of the industry? You never know when that will inspire someone on another team. This is also a useful format for fostering ideas, because the employee will immediately know who they can direct their idea to.
Open Channels of Communication
How do your employees communicate? For informal matters, they might use Slack and for important or external messages, they may defer to email. As your company grows, employees need to know who the right internal contacts are, should they come up with a breakthrough idea.
Your employees can accomplish more when they are aware of what’s going on with other teams. Sales needs to know what blog posts marketing is coming out with to send them out to relevant prospects. Designers need to know what features the product is lacking that could make it easier for the sales team to close deals. When employees communicate more, both formally and informally, they set the stage for an idea driven company.
Beyond knowing what the other teams are working on, foster deeper knowledge by encouraging shadowing. Each month, designate one member of each team to spend an hour learning what other departments do. This can be a follow up to the lunch and learn, helping employees get in-depth answers to any questions that may have come up during the company-wide presentation.
Make it Part of Your Mission
Whether your goal is to become the first “unicorn” among your competitors or create a product that makes an impact far beyond your lifetime, having an idea-driven company will further your top goals. If you are working on an early stage company or want to revamp your company’s culture, the best way to make room for ideas is by ingraining creative thinking. Set up a process to give employees the time, space, and structure in which to develop and share ideas.
At its core, an idea-driven company is made up of employees that know how to think critically and collaborate across teams. No matter the mission of your company, keeping innovation central and involving all employees regardless of the role will get you on the right track to achieving that mission.
Have you succeeded in creating an idea-driven company? Let us know what steps you took and what advice you have for other entrepreneurs by tweeting us @Protoio!
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