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Google was famous for giving employees 20% of their time to work on projects that benefited the company. Gmail, Google Maps and AdSense were all born from this program, and although today the practice seems to have taken a back seat because of Alphabets’ size and focus, the process is still valuable to others.
So why don’t more companies employ similar initiatives? Research suggests a lack of resources (perceived or actual) and lack of vision are the main culprits. Innovation isn’t a once-a-year thing but many businesses treat it as a ‘retreat-only’ activity. Here are a few ways to push more innovation into your company (whatever size it is) throughout the year for little to no money. Set up an internal innovation programme Adobe’s ‘Kickbox’ is an open-source way of getting people to offer up ideas and testing them rapidly. Think of it as a tried and tested method to help your employees fix the company from the inside. Adobe created it with a £1000 pre-paid credit card that is key to its success; employees have the freedom to explore and validate propositions, ideas and changes. The catch? They had to present both their spending and their results to the senior management. Sure some people will find this terrifying, but if you try it, any downside gets mitigated. Create your version; make it work for your culture. Try it with £100…£10. The key is accountability. Who knows what you’ll unleash? Head over to kickbox.adobe.com for more information and to download their guide. Reshuffle your resources It’s a mistake to think innovation needs money. Money can certainly help, but the ability to reallocate existing money and resources is often better than simply throwing cash at a problem (and more beneficial in the short-term). The trick is to find unserved needs and reutilise assets you already have, putting them to work with as little effort as possible to get maximum return or benefit. No easy task but it starts with giving yourself permission to carve out time to think, list, assess, question and… anything else that’s needed. This practice may sound trite, but change starts with you. Old ideas can be as good as new ones Other areas that are free sources for innovation include; reviewing removed product features (new consumer needs may require going back as much as forward), previously abandoned projects (circumstances may have changed, time to reassess and reevaluate), and combining existing elements to create something new. Going through these kinds of innovation exercises can often free up ideas (and cash) easier than, say, costly experiments and research projects. More do and less think is sometimes the right way to go to find a breakthrough, after all, innovation doesn’t have to be something completely new. The key with innovation is often in the details of the act itself. Using the right terminology can result in different outcomes, expectations and feelings. Choose that language wisely. Ignoring opportunities that are already within your grasp, or in the minds of employees who only need the right mechanic to unlock their innovation potential, isn’t just bad for your business – it’s bad business. If you can afford to be a bad business, that’s great, most cannot so put a plan in place. Innovation isn’t easy but it is worth your time. Go to your calendar now and set some time aside to start putting this into practice. Good luck!