Spencer F. Silver was working for 3M in the late 60s when he developed a resilient adhesive that would make a piece of paper stick to a surface, but was still weak enough to let the papers be torn apart again. Silver pitched the product over and over again to people around the company for the next few years, but he never caught any traction. Until, that is, another colleague came along, took Silver’s adhesive, attached it to a bookmark prototype he was working on, and the Post-It was born.
Seven experts in tapping employee creativity share these tips to get the best ideas from all parts of the company.
1. Use the Right Motivation. “Money is generally the worst. Pride in company, pride in personal accomplishment, and being able to meaningfully contribute are generally much more powerful and enduring. What happens is that employees will take the shortest route possible to get to the new idea. Innovation and new ideas often require a circuitous route. Brain science shows that the money just means less and less over time, so you just have to keep upping the amount. If you want to get ideas from employees, they need to understand the strategy of company. Only about 10 percent of employees can describe their strategy. Often times employees are asked to have really high quality in their work. Quality is actually sort of the enemy. New ideas and innovation are often sloppy. You have to embrace uncertainty. Innovation by definition is something that hasn’t happened before.” —Bruce Strong, partner, CBridge Partners, consulting organization for businesses and non-profits
2. Prove Great Ideas can Come From Anywhere. “It’s easy for people to think that new ideas are the responsibility of the innovation or R&D teams and have nothing to do with them. By telling the stories of some great everyday innovations such as the Post-It note, Band-Aid or traffic lights, you can prove that game-changing ideas can come from anywhere and are not just the preserve of men and women in white coats. In our business, our employees are also representative of our consumers, which makes them exceptionally qualified to come up with the next big thing.”
—Philippa Brown, employee communication manager, Tata Global Beverages, makers of Tetley Tea and Good Earth beverages
3. Ask a Relevant Question and Provide Feedback. The best challenge questions are results-oriented, defining a specific outcome that is desired without limiting the nature of the solution. Providing background information on the problem, its history, and any past attempts to solve it help to keep the ideas focused and relevant.
—Matthew Broder, vice president, external communications, Pitney Bowes Inc., provider of business solutions
Make it social: Ideas come from the interplay and free exchange between employees. Create opportunities for employees to get together and brainstorm.
Really good ideas almost never sound “normal.” Imagine how the idea for Post-it notes must have sounded when it was first described—’you stick these little pieces of paper everywhere, then…'”
—Steven Farmer, W. Frank Barton Distinguished Chair in Business, Department of Management, Wichita State University
Keep an Open Door. “Great ideas don’t keep to a schedule. As a leader, make sure your door —whether physical office or e-mail inbox—is always open to employees. When an employee approaches you and asks “do you have a moment?” make time for him or her, even if it isn’t convenient for you.