How HR can spark an innovative “lightning rod”

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McDonald’s may be world renowned for their expert-driven business strategies, but few know that three of the fast food giant’s biggest successes – the Big Mac, the Egg McMuffin, and the Filet-o-Fish – were all ideas originating from entry-level employees earning hourly pay.
 
These front line workers faced customers on a daily basis and knew their problems firsthand. Their creative thinking not only found solutions for these clients, but also generated innovative products that brought value to the organization for decades into the future.
 
“You need to empower people where the problem is and say to them, ‘What would you like to do about this?,’” said Jason Clarke, founder and lead ‘mind worker’ at Minds at Work.
 
HR leaders can facilitate this in the following ways:
 
  1. Identifying the areas in which an organization is insufficient, such as bad customer experiences or loss of market share, and asking employees to offer solutions. Clarke suggests a lightning rod approach, where organizations ask for suggestions regarding a variety of specific problems, rather than facilitating an open-ended dialogue with only general suggestions.
  2. Streamlining the creative process, so good ideas are materialized into visible action. “It’s about getting on a train, filling it up with coal and getting people really excited,” said Clarke. “If there’s no track for the train, it will just plough into the dirt. No one knows what happens next.”
  3. Creating a culture that discourages a fear of failure, and instead views setbacks as learning experiences that may lead to future contributions.
  4. Putting ego aside, and letting brilliant minds shine for themselves. Visionaries such as Richard Branson know that the best way to spur innovation is often through supporting others. “Get out of the way and encourage people to put their ideas forward,” said Clarke.
 
“We invented the wheel not to make ourselves busy but because we couldn’t be bothered walking,” said Clarke. “I don’t buy the idea we don’t have time – the time we have is going into old ideas that don’t work anymore.”
 
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