Have you ever seen someone start “The Wave” at a sports game? A single pair of arms flapping back and forth looks pretty strange, doesn’t it? But if another person joins in, then another, and then another, pretty soon you have thousands of people waving their arms in turn.
In his Ted Talk, “How to start a movement,” Derek Sivers discusses the two most important people in starting something new, whether it’s “The Wave” or a new mobile app. Those two people are the leader and the first follower.
Sivers’ talk directly correlates to a company’s need to stay relevant through innovation. The best way to do this is to create an atmosphere where employees are not only encouraged to innovate, but also to help each other improve upon new ideas. In other words, you want to create both leaders and followers.
Create an atmosphere for employees to come up with new ideas
Sivers describes a leader as a “lone nut…[who] needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed.” While that’s an exaggerated statement, it definitely takes courage to come up with new ideas and share them with co-workers. In addition to courage, innovative thinking takes time.
Google is well known for offering its employees “20 Percent Time,” where they spend twenty percent of their time on side projects that they think may ultimately benefit Google. Another company, Atlassian, offers its employees a FedEx Day: a paid 24 hour period to work on and present new ideas.
Even if your company doesn’t have the resources to give employees a set amount of time to innovate, you can create an atmosphere where employees will want to spend a spare twenty minutes working on new ideas instead of sneaking a peek at Facebook. The more receptive employers as well as fellow employees are to innovative ideas, the more motivated employees will be to create.
Create an atmosphere where everyone listens and encourages new ideas
Leaders are great, but if no one follows them, they’re just the single weird person waving their arms at a ball game. Derek Sivers describes the first follower as equally important to the leader. It takes just as much courage to be the first person to acknowledge and encourage a new idea. The first follower is the person who “transforms a lone nut into a leader.”
While Sivers focuses mainly on getting that first follower, it’s vital to encourage everyone on your team to become followers. That way, great ideas will get the traction they need to succeed. From there, you’ll have created an atmosphere where employees are excited to further new ideas. Encourage communication between your employees. If you have a weekly meeting, encourage all your employees to come prepared to share new ideas. Dedicate time to discuss the ideas and create a framework for co-workers to help the employee build upon the innovations.
Non-structured communication amongst co-workers is often just as productive, if not more so, than employer led discussions. Build an environment that promotes friendship and camaraderie. This can be anything from company retreats to open workspaces to monthly birthday lunch celebrations. The more employees want to talk to each other, the more likely someone will share a crazy new idea and a co-worker will happily volunteer to help work on it.
Be the company where employees have the resources to start their own “Wave” and co-workers are eager to get on the bandwagon. These are the type of businesses that will grow and adapt. Help your employees start a movement. Great things will result.