Innovation from Below

Opportunities multiply as they are seized. - Sun Tzu

Creativity and problem-solving ability are essential talents for any entrepreneur, but as every entrepreneur knows, no one person has a lock on innovation. Creativity should also be encouraged and stimulated at every level of your organization, for creativity very often comes from below—from people in the trenches, or factories, or on the front lines with the customer.

Take the case of Bette Nesmith, a freelance artist working as a lowly secretary, who used her natural creativity to solve a problem. Before the days of computers and word processors, when you made a mistake at the typewriter it often meant starting again at the beginning of the page. One day, Bette’s background in art came to the rescue. She suddenly realized that whenever she made a mistake while painting, she simply painted over it. With this in mind, and after several failures, she produced a strange concoction in her kitchen. She named it ”Mistake Out.”

Many of the other secretaries she worked with used the product, and a local office supply store asked her to make some for them to sell. No one, however, was willing to give her a dime to help expand her little business. She finally hired a college student to help her and went ahead on her own, still working part-time as a secretary. A single parent, her road to success was a rough one.

At first, she went from one office supplier to another, selling a few bottles at a time. Her first year’s profit amounted to just over $200. Thirty years later she sold her little company, which became the Liquid Paper Corporation, for 50 million dollars.

Empower Others to Innovate
Empower your staff to solve problems creatively. Make it known that in your company there are no bad ideas. Offer rewards for creative ideas that save time, money, and manpower. Reward creative ideas that increase sales or customer awareness. Conduct one major promotion a year with worthwhile prizes for the best ideas generated during a month of internal competition. Or put into effect a permanent system of rewards for employees, with rewards based on the amount it saves or the extra profit it produces.

Empower everyone on your staff to innovate. 
A lot of the best innovations come from the front lines.

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