Keep Ideas Flowing to Get a Culture of Innovation

In case you missed it, here’s a piece I recently wrote for Chief Business Marketer on creating a culture of innovation.  A little context:  I believe that making innovation part of a company’s DNA takes a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches:  change driven by management and by employees. Keeping ideas flowing is critical to both, not only in the strategy but the execution.  This post addresses the flow of ideas…which is not just a matter of sending a note to the troops but an overall philosophy that should be pervasive in any company.  But as I mention below, sometimes a note to the troops can help.


Marketing is driven by ideas. Today, with marketing automation, social media and Big Data, the tools of our trade are changing faster than ever. What matters more than the tools, of course, is how we use them. And it’s your people, hopefully, who have great ideas. Do you find that 80% of the ideas come from 20% of your people? If so, the question for you as a marketing leader is how you tap the creative juices of the whole team, especially those who are less vocal.

Recently I sent a note to my team (about 40 people with diverse backgrounds in direct marketing, technology, data/analytics, operations, market research, copywriting, design and other functions) as part of a campaign to bring more ideas forward. Consider this a pre-fab letter you can adapt and use to stir up the troops—like Mad Libs but without the bathroom humor. I hope you find it useful.


Our business must continue to transform. And you have ideas. Like ______ , ________ and __________ (noteworthy initiatives suggested by your employees).   You may at times be reluctant to bring an idea forward, which prompts me to write this note. Some ideas will succeed and many will fail—but we’ll never know until we try. And focused experiments are how we will continue to innovate. So in order for (Your Company) to put more ideas into action I encourage you to share your thoughts, develop them or convince others to.

In my experience there are two overall ways of working:

1. Keep your ideas to yourself
2. Share your ideas, develop and execute them

Which one describes you?

If you keep ideas to yourself, there could be a couple reasons (but you should be aware of the implications):

1. You think your idea is not good enough or nothing will come from it—although certainly nothing will happen if you stay silent.

2. You want to develop it further before sharing. That’s an admirable intention and I’m all for ideas that are based and informed by facts, insights and data. Just be aware that long ideation and development cycles generally don’t work in our business. Keep this in mind if you feel a need to research, analyze and refine the idea and keep it close to the vest until you have imagined every permutation possible, considered every counter argument and obstacle conceivable and developed a bullet proof plan with operational focus and six sigma quality standards that Jack Welch would drool over.

Because by the time your perfect plan is ready, something has changed. ______ (a competitor) buys ______(a start-up).  ______ (a company in your market) launches ______ (a new product). Three mobile apps come on the market very similar to your concept. So, what’s a creative person like you to do? Put our company values into action…________, ______ and ______ (your company values).  So I encourage you to share your idea, get it out there. Talk to a colleague. Get opinions from others. Talk to some customers. Get to know their jobs and challenges deeply.

When you do, a few things will happen:

1. Others will build on your idea and make it better.

2. You’ll know if it’s currently being done (and done well)—and if so maybe you can help improve on what’s being done.

3. You’ll learn if, for some reason, there are other priorities. That would not be a bad reflection on you—you might just be ahead of your time or the company overall may simply have other things to tackle now. (In which case you can revisit it at another time).

4. If it doesn’t have the potential you envisioned or is not implementable—you’ll find out sooner rather than later, learn why and get some closure. If so, jump back on the horse and try again another time.

I’m not saying you should casually blurt out every thought that comes to you. Be smart and selective but share. In the ideation process—and in vetting new concepts—it’s also very helpful to speak to innovative young companies like vendors, developers and others that are paving new ways. Where can you find them?

1. _________ (blogs or other niche web sites in your industry)
2. Twitter
3. LinkedIn
4. Vendor webinars
5. Trade shows and conferences
6. Many other ways. Be creative in how you develop your creativity.

To build upon and refine your ideas, seek out the ideas of others, particularly when it comes to execution. Rally others behind your concept. To do so, it helps to simply walk down the hall, pick up the phone and introduce yourself to someone you’ve heard about (or someone you have not met yet). Or use _______ (your company intranet) or join _______ (your company’s networking group on LinkedIn). Be fearless. Miscalculations and failures will happen. Those are ok. We’ll just need to learn from them.

And remember, in a Culture of Sharing it is incumbent upon us all to keep an open mind, be constructive and give credit where credit is due. So I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone today, dust off that idea you have (or had), and share it with someone else. If nothing happens keep trying…with another person, with another idea or at another time. Our business must transform. And YOU might just have the next big idea. Or a seemingly small idea with big implications. So let’s get it out there and make it happen.

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