How to Lead Employees to a Million Dollar Idea: Let Your People Surf

Lone Surfer

If you are interested in growing your business the way that Apple, Microsoft, or LinkedIn has grown, you need to read this.

Innovation is the key to a successful company. How can a business, among hundreds or thousands of business like it, create growth and profit? Only be becoming different, better, and special.

Let’s take a step back and think about the products that people use each day. Where did the iPhone come from?  The iPod was introduced in 2001 offering 1,000 songs in your pocket. It was new, it was better, and it was different.  The iPod started out like all new great inventions did: as an idea. That means someone in the company had the vision to see a small hand held device that could easily access music.  Do you think that same person also saw a vision for the iPhone 6s with a 16 megapixel camera, 3D touch, and access to hundreds of thousands of apps, games, songs, and videos? Probably not. But along the path of incremental innovation ideas were sparked, thoughts were formulated, and new products were invented.

How did YouTube become one of the most used websites on earth?  Even before the website was coded there was a problem, a person who recognized the problem, and a spark of innovation that led to the creation of the website. The problem: there wasn’t an easy way for people to upload videos to a convenient easy-to-use website. Innovation led to the solution: a new website that would allow users to upload all of their personal videos with ease.

So the multimillion dollar question is, how do you introduce innovation to your employees?  One thing that Apple does to spark innovation is implement something that they call Blue Sky. Blue Sky allows some of their workers to spend a few weeks on smaller projects.  Another tech company, Microsoft, created The Garage, which is a space for employees to use Microsoft resources to build their own products. Then there is LinkedIn with the InCubator.  The InCubator is a system that lets workers take time away from their regular work projects to work on projects of their own. One thing that all of these companies have in common is the respect and freedom for the employees.

Stimulation and creativity is very important for development of new ideas. Take for example Yvon Choinard, the CEO and founder of Patagonia. He was not your typical business man; he was a rock climber, a surfer, and a kayaker. Yvon didn’t want work to be boring for anyone.  His philosophy was to “let my people surf.”  Yvon wanted his employees to wear what they wanted to wear and work when they wanted to work, so that they could spend daylight hours surfing if they chose.  Patagonia is now a multimillion dollar company with thousands of employees.

It doesn’t matter if you run a doctor’s office, a night club, or a miniature golf park, there are always new ways to make your business different, better, and special.

How can you do it?

Spark Innovation by allowing employees to work from home.

Companies that officially allow employees to work from home at least three times per month have been found to report revenue growth of 10% or more each year compared to companies without similar freedom.

Spark innovation by allowing open workflows.

Videogame maker Valve allows employees to choose which projects they work on.  Valve believes that this level of trust and delegation of responsibility is one of its primary competitive advantages in recruiting and retention.

Spark innovation by taking employees on field trips.

Since new ideas are sparked by brain stimulus, it is harder for people to be innovative when they are stuck at the same computer and desk for 40+ hours a week. Also try offering flexible work spaces with various amenities (conference rooms, overnight lockers, and open tables).

Most importantly DON’T be that company that settles for “We’re fine where we are.” Don’t become the next BlockBuster, a once great company who lost to other companies, like Netflix, that recognized the value of online streaming. By the way, Netflix allows their employees to “take as much vacation time as they find appropriate.”

Take innovation for a test drive this month. You may be surprised at what you find.  Even if your employees don’t come up with a million dollar idea this month, you will still be one step closer than you would if you keep doing the same thing you are doing now.

Brett R.


Author Bio: Brett is a sales and tech support representative for TImeClick. He likes studying religion, science, and business. When not at work, school, or on the tennis court, he is usually playing his Takemine acoustic guitar. Currently working on a bachelor’s degree in Marketing at Utah State University.

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