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One of my business heroes, Jack Welch, recently took the liberty of letting everyone know that they’re getting innovation all wrong. According to Mr. Welch, businesses too often get caught up in thinking that innovation is the realm of genius – think Einstein, Edison and Jobs – and miss the opportunity to empower everyone to innovate. He asserts that the key to business success is “engaging every single person on your team to find a better way”. I don’t know about you, but I think he may be onto something…

For the uninitiated, Jack Welch is one of the most celebrated CEOs in history. Throughout his twenty year tenure as the CEO of General Electric (GE), he oversaw the company’s rise in value by 4000% (yes – three zeroes) and its market value increase by over $400 billion – making it the most profitable business in the world. Add to that the fact that he started his career as a Process Engineer – like me! – and you get the feeling that yeah, he knows his stuff.

Mr. Welch is not alone in this line of thinking – decades of scientific research highlight the importance of involving all staff in innovation, particularly when leveraging their collective brainpower for both incremental and breakthrough innovation. Plus, the most innovative companies in the world, from Toyota to Facebook and Google, have built their success on creating environments in which all their staff are empowered to innovate, everyday.

So, how can you create an environment where your staff are empowered and encouraged to innovate?

  1. Make sure that everyone in your organisation is on the same page regarding why innovation is so important to your business and, even more fundamentally, what it means! A good place to start is by defining innovation – check out Inventium’s definition and steal it with pride.
  2. Build the innovation capability of everyone across your organisation, from leaders, through to your larger employee base. Recognise that few people are born innovators, and luckily the skills to become an awesome innovator can be learned!
  3. Finally, reward innovative behaviours, including those that are not successful. Research tells us that you can get the biggest bang for your buck if you use intrinsic motivators.