leading innovationHenry Ford once hired a consultant to examine the efficiency of his operations. While the consultant gave Ford an overall glowing report, he had some reservations about a particular employee.

“It’s that man down the hall,” the consultant explained. “Every time I go by his office he’s just sitting there with his feet on his desk. He’s wasting your money.”

“That man,” replied Ford, “once had an idea that saved us millions of dollars. At the time, I believe his feet were planted right where they are now.”

In Randy Elrod‘s post, Thinking is Underrated, he suggests that we actually schedule time to think. I couldn’t agree more. As leaders it’s probably one of the most important investments you can make. But, how do you ensure that the people you are responsible for are getting adequate time to think up great stuff? Here are three ways that other companies have found to harvest great ideas:

  • IBM currently has 73 people with their feet up on their desks. They’re the IBM Fellows. They got there by coming up with exceptional ideas and are charged with coming up with more – under one condition: Freedom. Freedom from deadlines, committees and all the usual constraints of corporate approval. Since the program’s inception in 1962, IBM fellows have invented some of the most useful – and profitable – technologies in the industry.
  • Atlassian,  an Australian software company, believes that great ideas can come from anywhere. Unlike IBM, who focuses efforts only on idea specialists, Atlassian gives everyone the opportunity to generate amazing ideas. Once a quarter, they tell their developers, “For the next 24 hours, go work on whatever you want, any way you want, with whomever you want.” These days of freedom have produced more new ideas and profitable ventures than any other program or system they’ve tried.
  • Google takes it all one step further. Like Atlassian they want to harness the creativity of their entire workforce, but they want to do it all year round. Google has a policy called Innovation Time Off, where they encourage their engineers to spend twenty percent of their work time on projects that interest them. Gmail, Google News, Orkut, and AdSense are just some of the services that originated from these independent endeavors.

How have you seen leaders foster and encourage the creativity in the ranks?

What ideas do you have for harnessing the creative power of your employees?

Tagged with →