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Although sometimes ambiguous in definition, once a business has caught the innovative spirit, its effect is unmistakable. In today’s ever evolving business landscape, innovation is a must have: a process that sets you apart and creates significant new value that didn’t exist before.

Many have tried to define innovation in an attempt to understand how best to produce it. Steven Johnson, author of Where good ideas come from said, ‘innovation doesn't come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.’ The Exact Innovation Pulse Check aimed to explore exactly that. Our nationwide survey of The Supper Club – a membership organisation of founders and CEOs of high-growth businesses – asked a range of questions to get a better understanding of what, in their experience, creates an atmosphere where innovation thrives.

Based on our feedback from the Pulse Check, here are 4 things to remember while cultivating innovation in your business:

  1. Successful innovation starts at the top
The top innovation killer was revealed to be lack of encouragement from senior managers (59%). Leadership teams may need to adopt more of a ‘no idea is a bad idea’ attitude in order to foster an environment in which employees are willing to share their thoughts. Champion your employees - respond enthusiastically to ideas and never make someone feel foolish for doing so.

Also, 82% of those surveyed hold SME owners responsible when it comes to ensuring SMEs are innovative. I firmly believe a leader cannot expect their followers to do something they are not doing themselves. From meetings with clients to interactions with employees, are you endeavouring to be innovative in all areas of your business?

  1. A restrictive hierarchy stifles innovation
Although innovation does start at the top, its proliferation requires everyone to come on-board. Our research showed that 60% see autonomy for employees as a non-negotiable when it comes to getting creative juices flowing. Employees won’t think out of the box if you’ve sellotaped it shut. Sometimes managers need to butt out, stop meddling and trust the team they’ve hired to move forward.
  1. Don’t shun old school practices
As much as innovation is about bringing something new to the table, it doesn’t mean that you should forsake tried and tested practices that work. A surprising point from our research is almost half of those surveyed (46%) identified whiteboards for creative brainstorms as an essential for an innovative atmosphere. It may seem mundane or unexciting to some, but if there are methods that consistently work – use them!

Furthermore if you expect great ideas from your employees you must also be prepared to invest in them. Not just superficially - installing quirky chill-out zones and the like, but through continuous training and development. 53% of CEOs saw traditional training sessions as key to inspiring innovation - employees that are empowered are able to run further and faster with their ideas.

  1. Don’t be afraid of new technology
Although incorporating old school methods is key, we do live in a technologically advanced world. It’s risky not to be up-to-date with the latest tools. The benefit of technology and especially cloud-based solutions in businesses is an ever-recurring topic. A few highlighted by participants of our survey are: improving efficiency (51%); promoting collaboration (50%) and facilitating an easier and more cost effective method of trialling and testing ideas (50%).

Fostering an innovative culture is perhaps one of the only ways to remain a strong contender in the competitive world of business. Luckily creating a conducive environment isn’t difficult, however it is your responsibility to help your employees not just catch the spark but continue to carry the flame, and company, into the future.

By Erik van der Meijden, CEO, Exact