Before he became famous for “The Simpsons,” cartoonist Matt Groening penned a comic strip called “Life in Hell.” His delightfully subversive cartoon often took aim at the conformity-enforcing, creativity-squashing corporate life of the 1980s and ’90s, when innovation in the workplace was rarely considered a desirable trait.

Fast-forward two decades: Now being innovative is essential for a company’s growth and success. By taking steps to ensure you and your department are encouraging innovation in the workplace, your company will benefit, and you’ll be better able to retain top talent.

Here are five steps for ensuring that innovation is a cornerstone of your workplace culture:

1. Emphasize collaboration

Managers should create policies that support the open exchange of information and dialogue aimed at improving not only morale but efficiency and customer service. Employees need to feel they have a say, and one way to do that is to build workplaces that are collaborative. When individual reward takes a front seat, the collective good suffers. Some professionals will refrain from sharing their ideas with others because they are afraid those ideas will be stolen. Prompt your team to share and improve upon each other’s ideas for the good of the group.


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2. See from a different perspective

It's great to focus on getting the job done. But to foster innovation in the workplace, you also need to look outside your own department and company to identify alternative approaches to conducting business. Getting out of the office for an hour or a day can inspire new ideas. Join a professional society, attend a business luncheon, network with colleagues with different specialties, and encourage your team members to do the same. This can be especially helpful with learning about new technology. Designate a person from your department to attend a conference and share what's learned with the rest of the team.

3. Brainstorm and ask questions

Another way to encourage innovation in the workplace is through brainstorming. Question the routine approach to tasks and explore whether there are more efficient, effective approaches. It's great if your whole department can take part in brainstorming, but as few as two or three people can do it, too. You could suggest that a few minutes be devoted to brainstorming at the beginning of each weekly staff meeting.

4. Avoid the blame game

Mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process and should not be dealt with punitively as your department explores innovative approaches to company goals. Finger-pointing stifles creativity. Managers and leaders can cultivate creativity by regarding failure as a stumbling block on the way to success.

5. Refresh and rejuvenate

Overworking employees and managers is counterproductive. When workers face unrealistic demands and deadlines, they're likely to have more "uh-oh" than "a-ha!" moments. Likewise, managers will have a more difficult time inspiring employees if they themselves are uninspired or exhausted. Everybody needs a break now and then. Whether that means taking a vacation, requesting a day or an afternoon off or just taking a short walk outside to clear your head, take the time to rejuvenate and reinvigorate your creative side.

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