In 1800, legendary chemist Humphry Davy published a monumental text on the chemistry, physiology — and recreational use — of nitrous oxide aka laughing gas. At the end of the book he made his now-famous statement about its possible use in surgery: "Nitrous oxide … may probably be used with advantage during surgical operations."

Forty years passed before the anesthetic potential of nitrous oxide was taken seriously by the medical profession. Forty years of unnecessary surgical suffering because an idea expressed within one specialty never crossed over to another.

Is the same thing happening in your organization?

Are Great Ideas Getting Lost in Your Workplace?

Information silos are nothing new. Most knowledge workers have a long list of frustrations and missed opportunities due to the inability to access information or simply not knowing it exists. A climate of competition among departments can stifle the sharing of ideas, infrastructure may inhibit cross-departmental collaboration due to data security requirements or, like Humphry Davy, the person who has just had a brilliant idea may not think to share it beyond his or her immediate colleagues because they are not actively encouraged to do so.

“Research shows that we spend two orders of magnitude more time with people near our desk than with people more than 50 meters away.”

─Rewriting the rules for the Digital Age, 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends

Ideas are precious. If someone in your team has magically put aside their daily office demands to look beyond the obvious into the possible, this potential innovation must be nurtured. It is the responsibility of every organization to ensure there is an appropriate, frictionless channel for everyone — especially frontline staff who may not sit in front of a computer all day — to be able to share their ideas and to encourage this sharing in an ongoing cultural effort. The cost of not doing so is a lost opportunity and a potential disruption.

Google, Optus, Dropbox and Amazon, along with the New South Wales (NSW) state government clearly believe in the power of serendipitous cross-discipline discovery. They have recently invested $35 million into a new hub to house up to 2,500 Sydney startups, with a focus on collaboration and a whole floor dedicated to community and events.

Your organization may not be populated by hipsters with beards ready to chat about their latest bot over a kombucha, but it is still possible to establish some startup mentality by capturing and nurturing innovative thinking within a data management system.

Related Article: Innovation: The Elephant in the Room

Learning Opportunities

Establishing a Culture of Innovation

An Australian manufacturing company recently implemented a comprehensive SharePoint solution, enabling staff from any department to quickly and easily submit an idea that might save money, improve a process or capitalize on a market opportunity. The system then facilitates a thorough assessment process, sorting the big ideas from the incremental, the easy from the complex to implement and then target the relevant recipient with the information. Financial analysis dashboards show the savings and costs of all the generated ideas at present and in the future.

These dashboards help to:

  1. Prioritize the implementation of different ideas.
  2. Track and communicate the value of these innovations over time.

One year later, this system has generated ideas that have saved the company millions of dollars. Are their employees suddenly more creative and thoughtful about improving their systems? Do they have more time to idly consider possibilities for enhancement? No, they simply have an interface to capture their ideas and a culture that supports, encourages and rewards such innovation, including some healthy interdepartmental competition.

A complex solution such as this is not necessarily required to encourage greater innovation in your organization. There may already be channels in existence that can be leveraged to collect, store and direct ideas from employees. With the huge potential for positive change — and the cost of ignoring your industry’s next game changing innovation — don’t let new opportunities evaporate into thin air.

Related Article: How to Design an Effective Digital Innovation Campaign

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