Having written seven books that explore the "intersection of science, technology and personal experience," best-selling author and speaker Steven Johnson has spent years researching the types of environments where innovation thrives.
He believes most ideas need time to mature, partially because "good ideas normally come from the collision of smaller hunches." An especially forward-thinking environment is marked by a spirit of collaboration and conversation. When people bring their thoughts to the table, "something bigger than the sum of their parts" comes about.
Our hyper-connected world certainly provides the opportunity to unite with others and exchange information. However, it can also make for a distracted and overwhelmed sense of being. Knowing that "chance favors the connected mind," what can today's executive do to build a company culture that encourages innovation and growth?
Establish time for concentration.
First things first: before employees can come together and contribute their brightest ideas, they need time and space to discover them. It's crucial that individuals are able to focus on their biggest tasks with as few interruptions as possible.
As a supervisor, establish a system of schedule coordination that allows staff members to block out a window of time (the amount will vary based on your industry) where they can dial down any distractions.
Perhaps every Monday and Wednesday from 10-12, a particular employee knows they will be able to direct their attention to a specific project. Equally important, staff members are informed and aware and are discouraged from disrupting unless there is an urgent matter.
Model the standard.
More than what you say, practice what you preach by allocating a small amount of time in your own workday where you put pen to paper and step away from the screen.
Your staff will take note of your commitment to creative thinking, and your actions will set the bar for others to follow.
Additionally, as an enthusiastic and considerate leader, your employees should feel comfortable sharing their feedback about how systems could be improved upon. Instead of fearing they'll be shut down, they know you are open to suggestions and always appreciative of their insight.
Structure meetings accordingly.
Now that you and your employees are making creative thinking a priority, open up the lines of communication for ideas to "mingle and morph." As Johnson would say, it's no coincidence that some of the biggest and brightest advancements have historically been born in coffee shop discussions. When you think about the tone and setting of a coffee shop, you likely picture a relaxed place where intellectual conversation flows naturally.
Every detail matters, from the seating and lighting to a generous smart board/whiteboard surface for taking notes in real-time during group meetings. Analyze what you can do to help generate a climate that supports and values healthy discussion. Depending on the size of your organization, utilize technology in advance to put a call out for questions and concerns that can be a topic for group brainstorming.
Reach out to university students and professors, asking for their observations as part of a class grade or an internship program. Allowing a group of individuals to look at the same products or concept with a different set of eyes will bring in a multitude of fresh perspectives.
The time and energy you put into strengthening company morale will prove to be a wise investment. The rewards are numerous and evident in happier employees who are excited to do their best.
For more of my business etiquette advice, you may also like The Business and Benefits of an Enthusiastic Leader.
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