Constant innovation is a crucial part of surviving today’s competitive landscape, and collaboration is a key enabler. The problem with knowing, however, is that it often doesn’t translate into doing.

In this article I’ll share four ways I’ve helped my teams bring tangible innovation back into the work place.

#1. Define Innovation

The right mindset is where you want to start in most every situation. In the case of innovation, that mindset is in the definition.

The word “innovation” is defined as: to introduce something new, to make changes in anything established. That’s it. It doesn’t say anything about being a creative genius, patenting an invention or working 100 hours a week. If you’re changing up the norm, either with your own idea or an existing idea, then you’re innovating.

When I talk to the leaders in my organization about innovation, I stress the importance of "shipping" innovations. In other words, as executives we need to see these innovations to fruition, to make sure they’re realized.

Treating innovation this way is important not only because it’s practical, but also because it makes the concept less intimidating. Take that fear away and more people in your organization will be inclined to participate in a very key part of business survival and -- better yet -- success.

#2. Nurture Individual and Team Success

I’ve found that teams are often misguided when it comes to collaboration. While more hands on deck definitely means more rowing -- and therefore getting to a destination faster -- we’re not actually talking about a boat.

Baratunde Thurston, Director of Digital for The Onion joined us at a recent meeting in January. When we asked him what collaboration meant to him, this was his answer:

Collaboration is a different way of thinking about what you’re good at vs. what you’re not good at, and how you find those other parts to co-create the world."

This is a healthy way of looking at things. The processes involved in real-life business projects vary from person to person, as do their strengths and skillsets. Instead of handing each employee an oar and expecting them to row faster and harder, pinpoint these specific areas of talent and elevate those instead. This will help your employees feel more useful, which leads to better attitudes and productivity.

Remember: it’s not just about getting things done faster, it’s about playing on the strengths you have to get things done better.

#3. Leverage your Collective Brain with Anywhere, Anytime Tools

Some people like to work in groups while others prefer the peace and quiet of their own homes, and then there’s the peppering of mobile people involved -- either traveling or tied up in meetings. Workforces will continue to disperse like this as we move through 2012 and beyond, making developing solutions that bring them back together even more pertinent.

This obviously goes well beyond email and file sharing. Collaboration requires everyone to be in the same place -- albeit virtually. Look into solutions that incorporate a many-to-many flow, as well as provide ways to capture this information as it moves across the enterprise.

#4. Embrace Data & Failure

As leaders, it’s our job to find and nurture the best talent in our organizations and help them get to the runway and take off. Sometimes their ideas will fly and sometimes they won’t, but there’s no way of knowing that outcome beforehand -- and that’s OK. Failure is an inherent part of trying new things; don’t let this reality get in the way of innovating altogether.

Help employees to feel less intimidated by the possibility of failure by being open with company data (sales, marketing, product, etc). Nothing shows individuals and teams that we’re all human like transparent leadership.

The Dalai Lama is credited with the phrase, “Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.” I would add innovation to this notion. Encourage your team to put everything they have into it without fear. When they hit the inevitable snag or two, embrace them! These tough spots will surface questions that are important for your organization to explore, and would never have been discovered otherwise. (Just don’t encourage failing the same way twice!)

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