The Advancing Leadership Blog

Quiet Innovation: How re-thinking the way your company works can create a culture of innovative thought

by Catherine Osler, CEO of TEC Canada

On any given day, stories of the latest product and technological innovations abound in mainstream media, but what about the quiet innovation that happens behind the scenes to establish a culture where creative thought can flourish? While many companies hold fast to the working norms of the industrial age, some have begun to question if this is the best way to tap into the creative power of their work force. From re-imagining work styles to creating environments that facilitate knowledge sharing, these companies challenge traditions and seek new ways of doing business in the 21st century. Flying in the face of convention is not without controversy, but for those willing to take the risk it can result in a vibrant culture that embraces autonomy, diversity and innovation.

At least one third to one half of the human population considers themselves to be introverted. As author Susan Cain explains in her new book, “Quiet,” introverts possess many qualities that are crucial to creativity – an aptitude for reflection, level-headedness, thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Despite these enviable qualities, the extrovert is often viewed as the ideal personality type. In a society that rewards the outgoing, the power of introverted thought can often be overlooked. By creating a company culture that celebrates both extroverts and introverts, those who shun the limelight may feel more empowered to share their great ideas, however they happened to take shape.

The physical environment can have a powerful effect on productivity – ask anyone who has worked in an uninspiring office space. Cubicles may be the dominant model for information-based workplaces, but are they appropriate for your company? Consider the type of work your employees are engaged in – do they need space to collaborate? What about areas in which to think in quiet solitude? Do they need a permanent desk at all?

Innovation can come from many different types of interactions, so by providing diverse, adaptable environments in which these can occur, employees have more freedom in choosing to work how and where they feel most inspired.

Serendipitous collaboration and knowledge sharing often occurs in the “in-between” spaces – kitchens, hallways, unused corners. Make the most of these moments by creating spaces that encourage lingering. A once-neglected alcove could become the spot where your company’s next great idea comes to life.

For some companies, their most innovative ideas have been applied to redefining what it means to be at work. From Netflix’s decade-old unlimited vacation policy to Best Buy’s Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), companies are challenging the notion that physical presence equates with productivity. Google’s “20 Percent Time,” where employees are given one day per week to work on their own projects, has in itself led to several inspiring innovations, like the community-based

For employees who can do their jobs without being at their desks at set hours, there is no need to be tied to a rigid schedule. Studies have shown that this type of flexible, results-driven work environment actually increases productivity and engagement – an essential component to innovative thinking.

The small but growing movement of companies who give their employees greater autonomy in managing their own time is reaping the benefits of a more engaged and energized workforce. In this new millennium, how will you tap into the innovative spirit of yours?

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