Whenever I talk to my colleagues in HR about innovation I'm surprised at how many different definitions of the concept itself I hear.
They are all knowledgeable people – otherwise they wouldn’t be managing the most important resource in very large companies – but somehow all our definitions of innovation differ substantially.
However, there is one thing about innovation we all agree on.
Care to guess which one?
Innovation is not invention.
I have great respect for inventors –they are remarkable people with a brilliance that is rarely seen; the likes of da Vinci, Bell, Tesla, Einstein, and others.
All giants and admirable historical figures but their contributions are not to be confused with innovation. I firmly believe that not everyone can be an inventor but that everyone can, and should be, an innovator - especially in the business world.
Xpenditure was built on innovation, not invention. Cloud-based applications were already there, expensing was there, the math was there; heck, even expensing apps were there.
Our team simply had a long sit-down and figured out how to make everything work better and that is why Xpenditure has one of the best expensing applications currently on the market.
But for a company to stay relevant today, its employees have to constantly engage in innovation and that is what we’re trying to do.
How do we do it?
By making innovation one of the core principles Xpenditure operates by.
How to Foster Innovation in a Company?
Innovation is everywhere around us. The important thing for a technology company is to immerse its employees into it on a daily basis. Surround people with new things on a daily basis and innovation will become embedded in how they go about their day.
For example, every department in Xpenditure is equipped with a Sonos speaker. As a company, it costs us very little to afford that little luxury to our employees – in turn, it gives them complete control over what they listen to during their day. Sonos speakers can be connected to their smartphones and they use their Sonos app to choose the music they want to listen, depending on the collective mood that day.
Actually, our office spaces are bursting with innovative approaches that inspire employees to start viewing things in a different light.
From our NEST heating system that allows all departments to control the temperature via their smartphones to the app controlled lightbulbs from LIFX– we try make things extra easy on our employees while surrounding them with cutting edge technology.
On the surface, this might all seem incremental and superficial but the point is that people are constantly surrounded by innovative new ideas that are coming to the market.
We constantly add new stuff to our offices – things we believe will prompt people to think outside the box. Or rather, to take that box and reshape it into something new and exciting.
In a nutshell, innovation is not about building new stuff from scratch. It’s about taking a look around, noticing things, and fitting that square peg into a round hole.
It’s about taking existing products, services, and solutions and combining them to create new products, services, and solutions that are going to make people’s lives easier.
Also, the innovativeness of Xpenditure employees is closely tied with how they work. We encourage and foster a friendly work environment that people enjoy.
There are no constraints at Xpenditure – except those dictated by common sense. Work has to get done but our employees come in when they want and stay for as long as they want. They can relax and play some foosball or pool whenever they like and we encourage it.
I wrote an article about productivity at Xpenditure so be sure to check it out.
How to Spark Your Own Innovativeness?
You can have all the external motivation you can wish for; if you don’t know how to spark your creativeness and innovativeness, or if you function in a world of ‘cant’s’ instead of ‘can’s’, you are not going to get too far.
Here are a couple of tips I give to my team members every time we discuss innovation:
1. Ask stupid and obvious questions
…and then turn them on their head. A lot of people think they know how stuff works. The sad truth is that they don’t. But there is no shame in that. Ask questions and take an interest in other people’s work.
Ask them whether or not they’ve considered things from this or that perspective. Or what do they think about paring this solution with this process? A lot of innovation at Xpenditure was brought about by conversations between people from different departments who questioned the most obvious things.
2. Focus on the small projects
Everyone wants to contribute to something large. And that is fine – you should definitely strive to have a couple of big projects under your belt every year.
But don’t chase large projects at the expense of smaller ones. Great innovative leaps have been made on small incremental things that radically change the bigger picture.
If you can’t readily get access to a smaller project, ask a colleague to include you in one of their own.
3. Stand around – a lot
Your energy is completely different when you’re on your feet so try to spend as much time upright as possible.
Get a tall workstation that will allow you to work standing up, walk around the office and talk to your colleagues, and engage in fun activities that require movement around the office.
Also, if you’re manager, conduct your meeting with everyone standing up – you will notice a considerable difference in group dynamics and the quality of meetings.
On the other hand, ‘standing around’ and just looking out of the window can be a real boon to innovativeness. Unburden your mind from the daily tasks once in a while and afford yourself the luxury of doing nothing or engaging in trivial things.
That’s why we have a recreational room at Xpenditure – to give an opportunity to our brains to toil over problems without obsessively thinking about them.
4. Ban stuff
Every once in a while impose some restrictions on yourself. Change your Windows computer for a Mac and try to learn something new.
Or think of a way to communicate with your colleagues other than email. Restrictions force us to reinvent how we go about our day.
Routine is the bane of innovativeness – try to avoid it whenever you can. And if you can't avoid it then actively ban things you do routinely.
Your brain will start scrambling for new solutions, forming new pathways, and having moments of pure genius.