As the saying goes, the only thing constant is change, and that’s absolutely true at tech companies. Technology is always changing. And for tech companies, figuring out what those changes need to be and making them happen is paramount. It represents your best shot at thriving and growing and helping you keep innovation a top priority.
While getting the first version of a product to market is exhilarating, it’s not when the work ends. It’s merely when the real work begins, in determining how a product can improve and thinking about those next changes.
Innovation, important as it is to this growth and change, needs to be nurtured, cultivated, and encouraged in your employees. If your company is trying to make innovation more central to all you do, here are some tips for how to inspire innovation in your company.
1. Make time for free, innovative thinking.
It can be hard to be innovative just out of the blue. Having a specific time and place in which innovation is encouraged is a key to making it happen.
I recommend taking time out once a month to hold a session that is dedicated exclusively to idea generation. You don’t have to find a separate location to do something. However, it’s still best if it has a “retreat” sort of feel to it, as free-flowing and freeform as it possibly can.
Make sure that you have somebody getting all the ideas down. Having it on a whiteboard visible to everyone allows one idea to springboard to others.
And make sure that you have a facilitator that can keep the energy of the session going. Asking the right questions and the right follow-up questions is key.
2. Don’t shoot down new ideas immediately.
Your innovation idea sessions should be a brainstorming space. Nothing is off the table and nothing is too wild to consider.
Not everything you come up with can be implemented, of course. However, these sessions should be about all the things you can dream up rather than what might be the most rational and logical direction in which to make change.
Take vertical farms, for instance. Conceived in the 1970s, this trend toward indoor, controlled-environment agriculture became possible, as the New York Times reported, thanks to LED light prices dropping nearly 95 percent between 2008 and 2015. That one piece of the puzzle was enough to perhaps change the future of food — even though these farms will have additional challenges requiring more innovation.
Coming up with a new idea that might seem outlandish or unattainable can actually lead to ideas that are doable and inspired. If you see an idea that fits this description, you can let it simmer a bit. Talk through all the options that stem from that, and all the opportunities that might present.
Perhaps even have a follow-up meeting once everyone’s had a chance to sit with what you’ve come up with in that initial meeting. It might lead you to a different idea that becomes your next big thing and help you keep innovation a top priority.
3. Don’t be afraid of failure.
The fear of failure is very real and very present. It can lead some companies to make choices that are safe, predictable, and meet the expectation of their core customers.
However, they don’t allow those companies to spread their wings beyond that and inspire new people. When you’re risking failure, it’s often because you’re taking a chance and you’re trying something that’s new, pushing you into undiscovered terrain with an uncertain outcome.
But where failure can lie waiting is also where opportunity lies.
You can, of course, mitigate against the prospect of failure by doing your homework beforehand. You don’t have to go blindly into whatever risky territory you might think your innovation could take you.
And what initially might look like failure isn’t necessarily that — it could be, for example, that a product you envisioned to do one thing and isn’t being adopted for that purpose could have some other application that does, over time, prove to be a worthy innovation.
Take the iPad. It gathered functions and utilities for customers over the years. However, perhaps not the ones Apple envisioned would be truly resonant for customers at the outset. Consequently, they are now central to how people use them and how Apple’s adopted its marketing around them.
As a recent Forbes article revealed, one tech-savvy parent has revealed how its Focus mode is allowing what has the potential to be a distraction machine, full of games and videos, to steer his kid toward using it to complete homework assignments…without accessing the other temptations that lie within.
4. Bring in new eyes.
You might think that your ideas work within the bubble of your own company. However, part of the fear of failure comes with not knowing how that technology will work in the real world. So, why not bring the real world to you as you seek to keep innovation a top priority?
When you bring in new people — customers and potential customers not yet familiar with your products or the innovations you’re bringing to those products — you have the opportunity to discover things you wouldn’t otherwise know.
Have people come in to test your products. This can help you find opportunities for improvement. You can assess the functionality of your product, the UX and design features, or simply other uses for the product that you haven’t yet conceived.
As pointed out in a recent Readwrite article, the maxim about only getting one chance to make a first impression rings true. “When a person installs an app,” the article points out, “they will likely figure out if they wish to keep the app or uninstall it after the first use only. Therefore the app just has one chance of staying in the app list of the user.”
Most people use 10-30 apps on their phones. However, there’s obviously a lot of competition to stay on people’s phones.
Speed, the onboarding process, and the app’s responsiveness to gestures are all factors in whether an app stays on a customer’s phone. If you’re bringing a new app to market, those new users testing out your innovations can help you with those factors.
5. Get customer feedback on the regular.
However, to keep innovation a top priority, the information gathering shouldn’t stop with the release of the product.
Your future innovations can be informed and inspired by how people are using what you’ve created. You can highlight what they’re learning and discovering about it.
Customer feedback will not only help you gauge how satisfied customers are with what you’ve created, but will help you determine what next innovations they’re hungering for — and that will turn the process into a meaningful dialogue in which you’re building a relationship with your customers over time.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize: Innovation
It’s easy to ease the innovation reigns and coast for a while at a tech company.
However, a tech company that isn’t focused on innovation will quickly fall behind in today’s fast-paced tech-focused world. Implement some of these ideas and your company will make a solid effort to be constantly innovating. It will be easier to stay competitive and keep innovation a top priority.