Think deep and you will find that everything in nature, both at the macro and micro level, works in the same manner. In scientific terms, we may say that everything operates on the same principles. For example, there are great similarities in the ways of the soil and ways of the human mind. Both are necessary for creation and continuance, and both have the life force and the ingredients to promote growth. To boost the fertility of the soil, you need fertilizers, arrangements like crop rotation, and the conservation of topsoil. Soil has to be nourished and cared for, allowed to rest from time to time, and the local environment has to be respected – that’s what the soil experts say. Now, think about the fertility of the mind and creating a company that is like fertile soil for ideas. Do we see the similarities?
For an organization to be fertile soil for ideas, the process needs attention and care. The first necessity is to create an environment of trust and that is, by far, the most difficult thing to do. Building trust is not that simple even in our personal lives, within our families, and with close relations with whom we know well. It takes time, to say the least. In a company, the diversity of backgrounds, cultures, locations, and the entire gamut of demographics and psychographics — ironically even the diversity of thoughts that should be the forerunner of new ideas — makes it all the more difficult and time-consuming. The only way forward is for a company to welcome each new entrant into its culture and this culture of welcoming people into its fold has to be built carefully.
The ecosystem of trust has to be nurtured with attention. It is only in an environment of trust that people can speak their minds and express their ideas freely. Those new to the company must feel that this is the only way to operate here. Only then will ideas flow. People must know for sure that they won’t be misjudged if the ideas they generate are not aligned with the views of others, particularly with those of the decision-makers. There should be no fear of repercussions in sharing ideas.
The leadership must, in tandem, complement this with a mindset that one idea from an individual may not have been good but it shouldn’t matter, for it doesn’t mean that the next idea will not be brilliant. After all, just one magnificent idea can transform an entire organization! It’s much like a bowler in a cricket match, whose first five deliveries may have been unworthy but nobody knows if a wicket awaits at the other end of the last delivery.
Another critical thing to understand is that great ideas can come from anybody and at any time. It is not necessary that leadership alone can generate good ideas and it is not ideation forums alone where ideas can be collected from. Therefore, enough platforms — formal and informal — must be created, where people can present or log in their ideas without hesitation and without delay. Capture the idea before it slips out of mind or the person gets busy with something else.
It is necessary for leaders in a company to inculcate the mindset and the acumen to identify a good idea from feedback or a discussion. An open mind to listen to people — employees, customers, and others — without being judgmental, should be nurtured in a company. It need not be a KRA or a KPI for performance management.
I look at it this way: Soil is the source of all life. Take a fistful of soil and find trillions of microorganisms that make the soil fertile. So it is, with ideas in a company!