The scramble toward the top is an ever-present reality in the business world. Organizations are constantly seeking new ways to stand out from the pack to get an edge on the competition, and most see innovation as an important way to do it.

The reality is that companies need to focus on the bottom line, which is often the reason they seek to create innovation in the first place.

Innovation “enables a company to gain a significant competitive advantage- thereby generating abnormal profits and stakeholder value over the long run,” said Dr. Arvind Malhotra, lead professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program.

Here are six strategies top leaders recommend to add fuel to the embers of innovation:

  • Embrace the possibilities. Encourage creativity in your ranks, providing support and freedom for out-of-the-box thinking. Let your team know that you want to hear new ideas, and take specific steps to show you mean it. Such an approach will help you tap into the power of the people within your workforce, who offer a wide array of skills and expertise—likely across multiple generations. Tuck away the knee-jerk of “no” and embrace “yes” as the response to new ideas.
  • Optimize collaboration. Collaboration creates synergy—which is essential fuel for catalyzing innovation that makes a difference. Create an environment in your organization in which working together and sharing ideas is not only supported, but expected. Understand individual needs of team members, and provide the resources they need to work together best. Unless your company makes its money in grain, siloes will do you little good in the long run.
  • Deviate from the status quo. It might be an overused term, but disruption really is the name of the game here. Have the courage to step out from the pack and create a little—or a lot—of noise in the name of something new. Challenge your organization to stretch beyond what’s comfortable and reach beyond the norm. If you’re not a little nervous about your efforts, you probably haven’t deviated enough from the status quo.
  • Question, discard and start new. Have the courage to question everything—and encourage the same within your ranks. Deal with broken paradigms by evaluating current reality, discarding the ineffective, and starting over as needed. Be an example to those you lead, who may shy away from standing up against cultural norms in your organization.
  • Stand up to skeptics. If there’s one thing you can count on in your innovative endeavors, it’s an array of finger-wagging skeptics to keep you company along the way. Stand your ground despite little support and stick to the ideals that motivate you. Know every detail of your plan by heart and have a firm grasp of the facts. The best defense against those who doubt is an arsenal of objective data.
  • Deliver meaningful change. At the end of the day, this should be the “why” that fuels all else. Innovation is about more than the bright and shiny, it’s about making a meaningful impact with your glittering new toy. If end users don’t find value in your creation, they’ll derive little benefit from all the hard work you’ve invested in developing your groundbreaking idea. Make sure innovative solutions are relevant and easily accessible to meet the needs of those you serve. Move beyond invention to innovation that makes a meaningful difference for those who need it most.

Innovation is the name of the game in the scramble to the top, and why it’s essential to know how to make it happen and meaningful in order to optimize results. By following these six strategies that top leaders use, you’ll add fuel to the fire of your organization’s innovative efforts.

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