Earlier in my career, I worked at a startup that struggled to survive (like most startups do). One thing I remember from this experience was how unified and committed we were to get better. Every day the four to five of us went to lunch together. This is when we bounced ideas on each other. No one was squirrely about sharing because we had mutual respect for each other and had common goals. (So now I always ask in an interview: “What do you guys do for lunch?”)
Ideas are critical to success; actualizing new ideas should be part of a company culture. It is something many technology companies try to nurture and build into their normal routine. Here are some of the things they do:
- Use enterprise systems to promote internal communication. IBM has Verse (an email platform) and Connections (micro blogging, social media, wiki, etc.).
- Create an office layout where employees ‘bump into each other’. Apple built an amazing circular campus where employees cannot help but have random interactions.
- Get paid to develop your own ideas. Google gives you a day every week. LinkedIn lets you take a day off to volunteer or ‘explore new ideas’.
- Provide assistance with menial tasks (laundry service, food preparation, etc.), so you spend more time being brilliant.
- Promote mindfulness activities (yoga, resting pods, working out, games, etc.).
- Facilitate gatherings outside of the confines of the office. Zappos bought a whole neighborhood in Las Vegas for this purpose.
In the book Non Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas, & Predict the Future, Rohit Bhargava shares his “five habits of trend curators”:
- “Being curious”… Always understand how things work. Ask the right questions.
- “Being observant”… Nitpick on the details and methods behind processes. Take little for granted.
- “Being fickle”… A subtle, but important habit. Too many times ideas get tossed too early because of a gut reaction. This why the smartest people are not necessarily the ones who actualize the best ideas
- “Being thoughtful”… It is important to rationalize and reflect on ideas. Setup debates to hash out other perspectives and arguments.
- “Being elegant”… Find ways to simplify and illustrate an idea. Try creating a model, something that is easy to remember. Try communicating the idea using visual media: a video, graphic, etc.
Some arguments against making ideas the focal point of a company:
- Too many ideas creates too much noise. It takes many bad ideas to get good ones. Employees need to feel welcome to share their ideas. It is worth the added expense of filtering out bad ideas (or better said: ideas that cannot be actualized at this stage).
- Employees will just take their good ideas and do something on their own. On occasion, this will happen. It is important to build in reward and recognition for good ideas, while also ensuring the sharing goes up and down the ladder (make sure employees feel empowered and trusted).
- Some employees just want to do their job. While idea sharing is an important part of company culture, it is not mandatory. Employees decide their own participation.
The concept behind Become An Idea Machine by Claudia Altucher is to build “idea muscle” by committing to a regiment of coming up with ten ideas a day. I agree with her that ideas are the “currency of the 21st century” and it is necessary to be insightful, but not sure about the level of commitment for most individuals. Though I full heartedly agree in applying her concept to teams.
We are moving away from an employer-employee relationship where an employee is confined to a standard routine: clock-in, do a job for an eight hour shift, clock-out, and then go home and forget about work. Employees are human – have values and ideas and want to be heard. Companies must invest in its collective intelligence by promoting the circulation of new ideas.
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