By: Hilary Thompson

Today, innovation is part of doing business. Sure, delivering a consistent product or service is still crucial to success. But to survive long term, you must adapt to the ever-increasing rate of change in market demand and technology. And innovation is particularly important for startups.

Encouraging creativity and innovation isn’t easy because it requires out-of-the-box thinking, but it’s important if you want to affect real change in how your team solves problems. Here are seven ideas sure to encourage innovation in your team.  

1. Watch a Movie

Movies move us. And some even inspire us to create. The next time you want to spark your team’s imagination, put on a drama like Steve Jobs. Or stream a science documentary to explore the role of creativity within scientific discovery and get the creative juices flowing. Video and film are inexpensive ways to motivate individuals or to spark a group discussion. Assign a film for a team building exercise or add a few flicks to your company’s training library. Movies inspire teams by tapping into their emotions. Some real life companies use film to motivate, improve communication, and raise productivity. 

2. Book an Escape Room

Escape rooms are all about engaging our creative thinking to solve problems. These real-life escape acts challenge your team to work together to discover and put together clues. Communication is key, but your employees must also practice out-of-the-box thinking to free themselves. These team scavenger hunts are highly engaging and challenge a team’s spatial reasoning skills, abstract logic, and strategic thinking. Booking an escape room isn’t hard in most urban areas. If none are available, have another team design their own. Both designing and solving a custom live-action puzzle gets you double the creative boost.  

3. Cross Train Employees

One way to stimulate the creative faculties is to throw employees into new situations—cross training is an effective way to do this. Set aside a day every month or quarter and have team members switch jobs for a day. With these new roles, employees confront new problems and see how another’s role is connected to theirs. Plus, their fresh perspective will likely reveal new strategies for streamlining tasks or creating new workflows. For best results, focus on training across departments, not within. And have a long term plan that identifies specific employees and the skills you want them to learn.

4. Make Private Spaces

Most of today’s modern offices use an “open space” design. Cubicle walls are out, open floor plans are in. Private offices are passé, and collaborative workspaces are in vogue. Open space office designs offer benefits like increased communication.

However, creative folks looking to experiment, innovate, and throw the rules out the window, need a little privacy sometimes. The seclusion gives them confidence to take chances. But don’t throw out your entire office design. Instead, dedicate a few square feet to create privacy spaces — places where employees can escape the constant chatter and distracting keyboard clickety clacks. People can use these spaces to continue to do their work or even meditate. 

5. Build an Office Library

Office libraries are more than shelves of reference material. They’re a standard bearer for company guidelines, priorities, and values. Build one (either physical or digital) and fill it with both process materials (e.g, office manuals, editorial guides, user guides) and works that inspire (e.g., novels, biographies, movies). Invest in some good literature that reflects your company’s approaches to discovery and creativity. That might include The Essays of Warren Buffett, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In or Life & Work Principles by Ray Dalio. These works help codify the personal and ethical standards your company values. So, fill your library shelves full of what your value. And let employees make their own donations so the library can grow and evolve. 

6. Reward Innovation

Extrinsic rewards motivate employees to search for ways to improve your business. Rewarding innovation could be something as extravagant as a paid vacation or as simple as a recognition award. Both help keep the idea of innovating front-of-mind—an enticing carrot as a helpful reminder. But don’t let your reward system cause in-fighting or become a race to win at all costs. Choose your rewards carefully. 

Consider rewarding failures, too. Many workers don’t feel comfortable experimenting because of the consequences of failure. However, any ernest effort that fails isn’t a true “failure”; it’s an opportunity to learn. Pointing this out by rewarding effort rather than outcomes shows you’re committed to the creation of ideas. And it reaffirms that failure isn’t punished. 

7. Mandate Vacation Time

If there’s anything that squashes creativity faster it’s burn out and stress. The bad news is that over half of Americans don’t use all their vacation days. So, make time off a priority, especially if you don’t cross-train employees. Too often, team members specialize in their roles. And specialization results in few opportunities to experience new challenges.

Diversity of experience is essential to boosting creativity. And it doesn’t have to be work-related. Greater creativity is one of the mental benefits of vacationing somewhere new. New cultures, foods, and locales mixed with a relaxed vibe help us become more inventive. But practice what you preach. If owners and managers don’t take time away, they are putting pressure on others to do the same. No one wants to be the only one taking time off. So, set the office tone.

Author Biography: Hilary Thompson is a freelance writer, small business owner, and mother of two. She loves to write about everything from business to parenting, sleep disorders, tech, and stress. She geeks out on digital marketing trends, weekend yoga, and will likely correct your grammar if given the chance. Coffee is her friend. You can follow her on Twitter @TypewriterHil.