18 Ways to Actively Encourage Company Innovation

Company Innovation

Having specific daily tasks shouldn’t deter employees from constantly coming up with new ways to improve the company and themselves. To find out how startup founders can keep innovation alive, we asked 18 entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) the following question:

“How do you actively encourage company innovation (e.g., along the lines of the famed Google 80/20 program)? Why does it work well?”

Here’s what YEC community members had to say:

1. Make Sure Your Culture Drives Innovation

“We encourage innovation by fostering an environment where ideas are shared openly and tested regularly. Aside from our annual summit where we invite all employees to have a hand in company strategy, we have a formal process where employees can submit ideas in a Google document. Sharing and testing of ideas is key. We strive for tests that are measurable, repeatable and actionable.” ~ Chuck CohnVarsity Tutors

2. Have an Innovation Incubator

“As a tech company, we have to be dedicated to innovation. One of our divisions, Hatched.at, is actually a division built to spawn innovation. While we accept suggestions for new business ideas through our Idea Wall, it’s really Hatched.at that spurs new growth in our company.” ~ Mike SeimanCPXi

3. Make It Easy to Test New Ideas

“We show our team members that there are very few obstacles for them to try a new idea. Our company is all about testing and optimizing, so if our people feel like it’s too much of a hassle to try a new idea or approach to doing things, then we will all suffer. If a team member has an idea, it’s usually as simple as asking us for a quick thumbs up. In rare cases, it requires us to talk it through.” ~ Ross CohenBeenVerified

4. Use a Comment Box

“We have a comment box that we check weekly for new innovative ideas, problems with our product, complaints, etc. Our product is mainly web-based, so we also welcome ideas from employees outside the tech team. We make sure to let everyone know they each have a feeling of ownership in the company.” ~ Jayna Cooke, EVENTup

5. Build a Culture of Experimentation

“Teams members in every function should be testing ideas. If they don’t know why or how, teach them. Explain why smart companies are built in a way that allow for failure. Help them understand they can’t create a culture of experimentation or innovation without sometimes invalidating ideas (read: fail). Inspire them to want to test out their assumptions quickly, learn and iterate.” ~ Heather McGough, Lean Startup Company

6. Focus on Customers

“We’ve found many techniques to foster creativity and innovation and the linchpin has been a relentless focus on what customers need. The more time people spend putting themselves in our customers shoes, the more they identify new opportunities to help. The core of our innovation comes from always thinking about how to make our customers’ lives better.” ~ Omer TrajmanScalingData

7. Create an Office Library

“I read a book a week and have done so since I was 12. When any of those books deliver me value, I bring them into the office and add them to our library. Over the years we’ve built up a library of 50+ life-improving books that our team is encouraged to take out and learn from. These ideas, once disseminated among the team, often lead to some of our most innovative ideas.” ~ Brennan White, Cortex

8. Create a Company Channel for Ideas

“We started a channel on Slack where an employee can submit an idea and put it to a vote. If the idea is voted in, it goes through a process approval process and is integrated into the company structure. Employees get 20 bucks if their idea is implemented. The voting system works well because those who would actually be using the new process have a say in whether or not it’s implemented.” ~ Micah Johnson, GoFanbase, Inc.

9. Solicit Employee Ideas

“We created an open system to solicit and act upon ideas that we call “The Innovation Council.” It is a bi-monthly meeting where ideas from around the company are openly reviewed. Everyone is invited to attend, every idea is guaranteed to be peer reviewed, and the winners are acted upon and celebrated.” ~ Christopher KellyConvene

10. Hold Hackathons

“Innovating is like breathing for some of our exceptional talents. We just held a “hackday,” an internal 24-hour hackathon, and our innovation team took a break from their usual projects to work on completely different, new projects. The resulting projects may or may not be taken to market, but the team returned from the hackathon refreshed and ready to look at their regular projects in a new way.” ~ Tomer Bar-Zeev, IronSource

11. Fail Forward

“Our company motto is to try new things, knowing that a large portion of the times we will fail. We don’t worry about failure, we worry about not learning from our failures. By failing hard, fast and forward we make the mistakes that help us to improve our structure. Instead of being paralyzed by fear of failure, we remove the fear and encourage our teams to act and learn.” ~ Marcela DeVivoNational Debt Relief

12. Don’t Punish Small Mistakes

“One of the quickest ways to stifle creativity is to micromanage and put employees in a culture where they’re afraid that if they make the wrong decision, they’ll be fired. Employees need the freedom to take risks, because that’s what leads to innovation and creativity. And they need management that supports them and understands that risks sometimes don’t work out.” ~ Matthew WeinbergVector Media Group

13. Elect Everyone Chief

“At LexION Capital, I’ve encouraged innovation by eliminating top-down management. My team is not limited to their job title — instead they are limited by what they can accomplish. There are still assigned responsibilities, but everybody is free to pitch in on any project, and no one can block a good idea. This encourages work in the context of shared goals, not in the framework of a job title.” ~ Elle KaplanLexION Capital

14. Recognize and Reward Creativity

“The value we deliver to our customers stems from the innovation of our team. Acknowledging and rewarding innovative contributions from individual employees and teams is a top priority within our management and review structure. Our team regularly donates company time to open source projects outside of 10up that give back to the broader community and further enhance their creative abilities.” ~ Jacob Goldman10up Inc.

15. Encourage Transparency and Creative Thinking

“In a growing business, every day requires innovation on the fly. At ThinkCERCA, we empower our team to challenge themselves every day by thinking ofways to improve processes to yield greater outcomes. This could be as little as an email subject line all the way up to launching a new product line.” ~ Abby RossThinkCERCA

16. Encourage Any Idea for Vetting

“I communicate to everyone in my company that we encourage ideas. We’ll research any idea, even if it seems crazy. If our research shows the idea has potential, we give our team member a piece of the action based on their desired involvement. We’ve probably looked at over 1,000 ideas in my company. This works well because people love sharing their ideas and the chance to profit from them.” ~ Joshua Lee, StandOut Authority

17. Be Intentional and Make Time

“We have a monthly “Blue Ocean” brainstorming session. This meeting is an optional company-wide meeting, making it very collaborative and bottom-up. People submit topic ideas to me throughout the month, and I’ll curate one or a couple to discuss during this hour and a half.” ~ Fan Bi, Blank Label

18. Encourage Employees to Ask for Forgiveness, Not Permission

“It sounds trite, but it’s true. Facebook’s mantra is “move fast and break stuff.” Most of the time, testing any given new idea/tactic in real-time instead of debating them endlessly won’t sink an early stage company (assuming proper common sense, ethics, etc.). So giving employees the freedom to screw up as long as they have the discipline to test and measure encourages the freedom to innovate.” ~ Avi Levine, Digital Professional Institute

Birthday Candles Photo via Shutterstock


The Young Entrepreneur Council The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

2 Reactions
  1. A comment box is very important so that you can build innovations based on need – which you can only get from feedback.

  2. It’s Seems A Great Shame To Me That These Stage Implementations For Innovative Ideas Are Not Used In The U.K. Houses of Parliament!!!!!