Want true collaboration? Nix the idea shaming

Make innovation happen

The media has grabbed onto “body shaming” as a social phenomenon in recent years. Maybe the next social issue brought to light should be “idea shaming,” the ridiculing of concepts that are decidedly different from mainstream thought.

I once participated in a group planning session for a local service club. Members were asked to throw out ideas for future goals, no matter how far reaching. When I suggested one ambitious goal, the facilitator paused awkwardly and declined to list it on his chalkboard on the grounds it was “really outside the box.” After that, I made a mental note not to volunteer for future brainstorming.

My point is that organizations can’t just talk the talk about being collaborative if they want members to step up and innovate. They have to devote resources to making innovation happen by genuinely welcoming all ideas (even unformed “off-the-top-of-my-head” ideas) and make people feel rewarded, not mocked, for speaking up.

That’s especially true in digital marketing, which is evolving at the speed of light to incorporate the influx of new platforms, tools and methodologies which continue to raise the bar for customer expectations. Many marketers find their traditional work flow systems simply can’t keep up with the rising demand for innovation, speed and functionality in product offerings.

“Some of the brightest minds in our industry have developed amazing tools and techniques that are revolutionizing the design process,” notes Content Strategist Rebekah Cancino in an blog. “Why is that despite all our fancy tricks, here we are, still struggling to deliver the unified digital experiences we set out to create?”

How to facilitate a collaborative culture

Enter the opportunity for integrated company cultures that not only welcome, but encourage “off-the-wall” ideas that bridge silos, create broader opportunities for problem solving and harness creative energy company-wide. The side effects of this kind of collaborative culture often include renewed employee enthusiasm and morale, fewer problems with office politics and lower production costs as teams work cooperatively to get projects right the first time. Here are some ways to facilitate this type of change:

  • Model openness and transparency. It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea of collaboration, but as a company leader you need to make it real by treating employees respectfully and equally, welcoming all ideas, acknowledging you don’t have all the answers and recognizing that your workers have talents and skills you lack. “Humility is a critical strength for leaders and organizations possessing it, and a dangerous weakness for those lacking it,” writes Cancino.
  • Conduct brainstorming meetings where all ideas are considered without judgement, taking a “funnel” approach to narrowing down the best options as a team. Games and/or participation by customers, vendors and other company outsiders can spark more conversation. Make sure you don’t automatically dismiss offbeat suggestions. “Find the kernel of sanity hidden in the crazy,” advises Deanna M. Murray on “The most laughable and insane of ideas could have a grain of brilliance in them.”
  • Consider companywide organizational tools like BrandpointHUB, which fosters collaboration by consolidating content into one user-friendly source that’s accessible to comments by both clients and team members. The SaaS platform negates the need for copious emails, Excel spreadsheets and Word files by tracking and automating everything from planning to creation to publishing to reporting on results.
  • Aim to remove the phrase “That’s not my job” from employees’ vocabulary, and instead encourage them to see the big company picture. Co-workers might shadow each other to get a greater appreciation of other company functions.
  • Encourage employees to think like real-life customers, moving beyond prevailing industry wisdom to consider what really happens at the client level.

Curmudgeons may believe the most important new innovations are in the past. Forward-thinkers argue we’re only limited by our imaginations, from now until the end of time.

“People will try to tell you all the great opportunities have been snapped up,” inventor Ken Hakuta once said. “In reality, the world changes every second, blowing new opportunities in all directions, including yours.”

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