How Innovative Companies Unleash Rock Stars in Their Workforces

employee innovation

Sometime in the early 1960s, Queen's Brian May was famously cash strapped and in need of a guitar. So as one does, he built one. From trash.

The Red Special became his go-to. "You can still see the wormholes that were filled in," he once said in an interview. Most of us will never need to build a Fender from firewood (if we're being honest, most of us are never going to need a Fender at all). But the ingenuous fix illustrates two big ingredients of creative thinking and innovation: a problem one refuses to believe is unconquerable, and a person who's invested enough to tackle it.

Those two criteria have led people to build more than guitars; the inspiration from smartphones to Spanx. But the myth is that innovation only counts if it's epic. The truth is people who are invested in their jobs (and more pointedly, the company) are creatively removing obstacles daily, and moving their employers along in small but meaningful ways. Such as?

That's not my area, but...

The worst possible answer to any question is, "That's not my job." People who are invested are more likely to say, "It's not my area of expertise. But I think I know where to go to figure it out."

I know it's an odd hour, but...

Nobody should expect 3 a.m. emails. But when your department is in the midst of troubleshooting, an odd-hour email with an excited brainstorm signals an employee who is personally invested in figuring a solution...and more likely to find one.

You don't need that, but you do need this...

Ever unknowingly ask for the wrong, less-efficient, or more expensive thing? Un-invested folks will just give it to you. Creative people will find what you do need...and save the company trouble, time, and money in the process.

Something didn't feel right, so I checked...

Numbers that don't add up have a way of being passed on like bad science in a chain mail. Invested people will listen to their gut and then figure out a way to redo the math.

What if we try it this way...

Customer service people who make things happen - "I think if I try it this way, I can get that product with a discount and still get it to you in a hurry" - are worth their weight in repeat business.

What Innovative Companies Know

Those little pivots add up. The question is, how do you get that kind of investment? And the answer is, your employees have to care.

"More than merely about product or company cachet," says a new study of innovative companies by Horizons Workforce Consulting, "organizations characterized as innovative have carefully crafted cultures that fully leverage their human capital to think creatively and inventively." A few of the ingredients: great benefits, support for career growth, and assistance with priorities outside of work. In other words, the short answer to "How do we get people to care about their jobs?" is to show your people you care about them.

"These cultures," says the study, "create the conditions that allow big and small creative ideas to take shape."

That's what innovative companies know. All those creative ideas may not be Queen-sized guitar moments.

But if you're doing it right, you'll have rock stars all the same.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.