Quick SummaryTo be a winner, you have to be thinking and acting like a winner year-round. Part of this, of course, is staying in great shape. In athletics and in business, players who "let themselves go" during the off-season (or economic downturn) find it harder to return to form when the season approaches (or the economy improves) - often to the detriment of the entire team...
Capacity for Innovation
Most would agree that a company's capacity for innovation is a key competitive factor, regardless of how the economy is faring. So, how does a company keep its innovation muscles toned when money is tight. Certainly, any major R&D initiative represents a large investment over time. Innovation projects such as inventing new products, re-engineering processes or re-designing the structure are extremely costly, though hopefully worth the investment of money and time. Even training employees in innovation principles and skills requires resources that are hard to come by when the economy is down.
How, then, can an enterprise keep the spirit of innovation alive when simply staying alive is the top priority? What can be done at little or no cost to keep people thinking creatively, and to convey to them that innovation is still highly valued"
Here are several suggestions:
* Work on initiatives that are relatively focused and manageable. Large-scale innovation initiatives are exciting, but may need to be put off. In the meantime, the same quality of creative thinking and collaboration can be aimed at modest goals that are more easily (and inexpensively) implemented.
* Reward employees or teams for creative ideas. Keep people flexing their "creative muscles" regularly to stay in creative shape. That way, when the economy finally does come around, they'll be ready to help discover the big breakthroughs that can put your company far ahead of the competition.
* Model creativity - show others your own creative side. It's one thing to verbally encourage people to be creative, another to actually model it. Few things convey your own receptivity to new thinking as engaging in it openly and without reservation. It's also fun, and a great release from your daily pressures.
* Use facilitators to lead brainstorming sessions. Many people are better at quashing new ideas than generating them, and naysayers seem to get louder during lean times. But ideas cost nothing! Therefore, if you're putting people together to come up with new solutions to challenges, an experienced facilitator will ensure that ideas - and that those offering them - are given a fair chance.
* If you can't use an idea now, put it in the bank. Show employees that their ideas are worth something, even if nothing can be done with them at present. Create an idea bank, accessible to every employee. Besides what it tells them about the value of thinking creatively, you may in fact find something worth pursuing when the economy rebounds.
So, think of these lean times as your company's off-season. As in sports, the "playing days" will return. Keep those innovation muscles well toned and hit the ground running when the "economic season" is back in full swing!
Your thoughts matter to others - more than you can imagine.
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