Do you know how to communicate to harvest ideas?

harvest ideas

Apple and Google are prime examples of companies reaping the benefits of ideas generated by someone in their organisation. However, far too many companies still fail to benefit from the ideas of their staff.

So how do you get everybody to come forward with ideas they have for any area of the company? Could be ideas applicable to short term as well as long term benefits. Frequently management find it difficult to find out about all the different ideas employees have. They are unaware of anything from small ideas that would slightly improve their database to ideas that could result in new successful products – or even ideas that would completely change how the organisation operate. So how do you go about reaping the benefits from ideas your staff have?

Let staff know you value their ideas

The first thing to communicate is that you are sincerely interested in any idea someone in your organisation might have. Make sure they feel welcome presenting ideas to you even if the idea isn’t yet fully developed. Find simple ways that enable anyone from the cleaner up to take their ideas further than chatting to colleagues about them during a coffee break. Give them courage to present their ideas to colleagues and management. And make sure they are not afraid of looking ridiculous or get reprimanded for having suggestions.

If you don’t know about the abundance of ideas floating around in the organisation you are missing opportunities to develop and innovate, not to mention earning money. By listening to everyone your chances of finding new strategies and opportunities increase.

Ideas lost may be money lost

The more ideas are saved, mixed and worked on the better for an organisation. And it’s time to move on from the boxes where employees dot down a few ideas for the management to read. Frequently such communication neither give credit to ideas nor does it enable colleagues to discuss and develop a seed into something that can be used.

Develop ideas during office hours

To give an idea a fair chance the person behind it should be able to come forward with it and explain the benefits. One way would be to have monthly or weekly meetings where ideas can be presented to colleagues and management. The more ideas see the light of day the more ideas will be created and developed.

Brainstorm on a regular basis

In my experience brainstorming is a wonderful way of developing ideas, not to mention whole organisations. And it’s mainly ideas that are far out, almost regarded as crazy, that turn out to be the best. It’s hence best to have as many people as possible participating so that a seed can be creatively developed. It’s also crucial that people keep an open mind and don’t discard something that may turn out to be a bestseller before it’s developed.

Develop a culture that embrace ideas

For ideas to flourish staff must feel that they are appreciated for putting forward ideas and encouraged to think, question and be innovative. Obviously not all ideas are good ideas but you will lose out on the good ones if staff don’t let you know what they would like to improve.

When a lot of people come together and give feedback a lot of good ideas are developed. Even more so when people from different cultures join forces and look at innovations from different perspectives, which is one of the key assets of companies like Google and Apple.

Once you have developed a system where everybody in the organisation are encouraged to develop their ideas and present them you will not only get a lot of ideas but a culture where staff dare communicating what they would like to improve as well as increase the creativity of the organisation enormously. The result will be an atmosphere that is fun, people like to go to work, aren’t afraid to make mistakes and new products and services will be created that otherwise would never have seen the light of day.

Jump on the Google & Apple innovation band-waggon

Far too many companies all over the world have a culture where only the management are allowed to think and have ideas. So many that it’s often assumed that’s the case, even if management would like to develop a culture where everybody contributes. If that’s the case, it’s time for you to start communicating that you are open to all ideas and let staff know that you are interested in their thoughts and ideas. They will never know if you don’t let them know.

What are you doing to encourage a creative atmosphere that breeds ideas? Does staff come to you and explain their ideas? Do you have regular brainstorming session to find and develop ideas? Or is this an area you have neglected since it seems to complicated? If so, it’s high time you follow in the footsteps of Google and Apple and create a culture that breeds success.

Picture: Jayel Aheram

116 thoughts on “Do you know how to communicate to harvest ideas?

  1. I am now retired from my small law practice (27 people at its biggest), but I often felt frustrated by the lack of ideas and innovation suggested by staff. I'm not sure what about our firm culture caused this. In retrospect, I think this is something to stress when interviewing employee candidates, again when someone goes through orientation and during yearly evaluations. I always had an open door policy, so I don't think being unapproachable was the problem.

  2. Creating a culture to allow ideas to flow is essential. I have been in business situations, where it always comes from the top down, and usually is a failure.
    Worse example is in the military. You have higher ranking officers, who never served in combat or in the field, thinking they know best for infantry men. Sometimes you get someone who works their way up, and usually they are appreciative of the ideas that come from people who have hands on experience on a topic.

  3. Agree wholeheartedly that companies should embrace ideas from their employees. Unfortunately, many companies don't value their employees enough, they don't listen, or you hear "we tried that and it didn't work." The worst, though, is when an employee submits and idea and his superiors then take credit for it.

  4. LOVE this, Catarina! What you're talking about here is making sure that everyone in a company feels seen, heard, and validated. Then they will feel safe and valuable enough to contribute ideas. Thanks for the tips on creating an emotionally healthy workplace that pays off in profits!!

  5. As a manager, I have monthly team meetings and 121 meetings with officers. We discuss development, training , new ways of working. I am certainly not of the mindset that only managers and above can bring ideas to the table. Each person in an organisation has something to offer which is why they have been employed. It is a manager and leaders job to encourage the sharing of ideas.

  6. This is such a wonderful post and very relative to our world that seems to change constantly. I am a civil servant, and I can tell you everything we do is structured and regulated that most of what you are speaking about is not allowed.
    People often talk about how government is out of touch and incapable of doing things. The reason for this is what I described above. Government is always lagging behind private companies, it is designed that way.
    Private sector moves faster than governments, and you must be imaginative and adjusting, and to do this you must trust your employees and their ideas.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Maybe it's time to start working in the private sector, William? Is it really so bad in the public sector in the US that if you have an idea that could save a lot of money it's not implemented after they have looked into the matter and concluded that it would be a good idea?

  7. The brainstorming process for valuable idea generation is the same whether for business or when it comes to helping writers unearth ideas for creative writing. The bar has to be set that all ideas are worth being explored, especially when they might not be fully formed. By presenting a tentative idea, it’s amazing how someone else’s insight can help us develop that idea so it can really take off.

  8. I believe everyone has something to offer, whatever their area of expertise. Some employees do not put themselves forward for fear of looking silly or because they feel their opinion is not valued. Others have a lot to say. It is for leadership to sift through the information they receive and identify which can be used for better ways of working.

  9. I think this is probably one of the key things that have made Apple so successful – at least I think there has in the past been a culture of fostering employees to be innovative. You can hire good people but if you don't have an avenue or forum to open up and take a chance on bringing ideas forward then you've lost a lot of potential as well as commitment , loyalty etc. Your website is looking great BTW.
    My recent post 3 Key Points Creatives Can Learn from #NaNoWriMo

    1. Absolutely, AK. As usual we agree. But one Google employee made a huge mistake when he convinced them to start Google Plus in order to compete with Facebook. On the other hand the Google employee who came up with the successful idea of Google Chrome is now the highest paid executive in the US, if I remember correctly. At least one of the highest paid:-)

  10. I’ve never worked in a corporation and I’m surprised that companies don’t look within the organization for ideas. I do know from organizational psychology that lack of recognition and lack of communication are two of the top reason employees become discouraged at work.Our feelings of significance is a strong motivator, it sounds like such a “win win” for both sides. Also, it seems that the probability for a “great” idea would originate from the people actually “working” in the job.

    1. Doesn't it work more or less the same in any community of people, Pamela? If you cooperate with others in whatever form how you collaborate, what you do and how you do it can improve if ideas are encouraged and listened to with an open mind and heart. Many times it's the ideas that at first seem outrageous that generate fantastic results. The reason corporations don't look within the organization for ideas is the misconception that only the top management come up with good ideas. Mind you they probably often need to have that attitude in order to justify having multimillion dollar packages and parachutes:-)

  11. I like the idea of having regular meetings where ideas are presented or regular brainstorming sessions to create a creative atmosphere that embraces ideas. I think the bureaucracy that goes with a large corporation makes it more difficult for ideas from all levels of staff to be heard and the larger corporations need to work a little harder at encouraging and soliciting ideas.

  12. Too bad there are so many senior managers that fail to appreciate this. As you mentioned, everyone can contribute – those doing a specific job will have often thought of better ways to do it. Being given the opportunity to share their ideas could improve the position, the service or the product.

  13. I think the most important thing is to let people know that you welcome ideas. If you don't they may worry that you won't be receptive and decide not to mention them. Brainstorming is my favorite technique, being sure to encourage people to just blurt out what they think and that the ideas can be sifted later.

    1. Brainstorming is one of my favouries as well, Beth. The most outrageous ideas are often the ones that will succeed. So the fact that we are open minded and really listen to what people are saying makes a huge difference.

  14. My biggest communication is with myself as a solopreneur. Communicating with others to get ideas usually works best for me with a master mind group of which I have participated in 2 good ones and 1 not so hot over the last 8 years.When I was a sales manager about once a month we had brainstorming meetings – lead by an introvert meant everyone could have their voice easily heard. They were a month apart because I encouraged the quieter types to let the ideas brew and then we'd talk about them anytime. It was no surprise when we did, by consensus, implement someone's idea everyone got into making it a success. We are ALL full of ideas.
    My recent post Self-Kindness to Kick off World Kindness Day #WorldKindnessDay

  15. I think it is so important to get ideas from your staff as they are in the trenches and working on projects everyday. I have a suggestion box and I reward the ones that give me input. It is working very well. After I take the suggestions I will have a meeting and brainstorm with my staff to hear what others think of the ideas. It is interesting how everyone may have a different take on the same idea.
    My recent post What Color Means to Your Corporate Identity

  16. I think we can always do more to gather ideas from staff and you have some great suggestions here. At my organization we have implemented LEAN management principles and that has really helped to get our frontline workers involved as we develop solutions. They huddle weekly to discuss and resolve challenges related to client care, scheduling or any issue that comes up, it isn't perfect, but it's a great start.
    My recent post Everyone Loves A Good Story

  17. I hear you. Because I am currently a company of one I find I need to work on many of the thing that are mentioned. I don't often listen to myself and give my self credit where credit is due. I often discount my own ideas in that of others. I don;t truest the very things I should and that leads to my taking a longer road to success. That said, whether you're a company of one or a 1001 giving your staff the room to use their God given gifts is a great thing for all concerned.
    My recent post Delicato Merlot 2010: Wine

  18. The people I work with live far away now that my work has changed but brainstorming on conference calls and video calls helps to take work further in ideas than I would ever have thought. I always believe it takes a team to make something stand out… We no matter who we are, are an island to ourselves… We need those 'thinking' ships to come into!
    My recent post Are you ready to be chipped?

  19. This is such a brilliant and yet simple idea. More companies should definitely get on this band wagon. You don't have to be a manager to have ideas.
    My recent post New ways to get creative and healthy

  20. Number 1 idea, and you repeated it — a culture where new ideas are welcomed and folks won't feel like they are being shot down. That no idea is too small or farfetched. When people feel like they are in a space where their creativity can grow….But sometimes companies are all about the money making and the forget that.
    My recent post Pre-Order the Ebook!

      1. No I definitely agree, I've seen it happen at my old job where young excited people come in with ideas to raise money or provide services to the community and the management, likes yeah…sounds like alot of work or we'll think about it and you never hear from them about the idea, so it discourages them.

        My co-workers even had this great idea to bring in a new campaign and they did get management on board to throw a little money in, and after months of hard hard work and making a profit, they brought it to the board, and the board was upset that they weren't in from the beginning and instead of management taking the workers' back, they came around and canceled the project, accused the workers of trying to do a spin off of the agency, and months later revamp the brand into something new and more "appropriate" for the agency, something that doesn't raise money as it did before.

        Not listening to workers' idea can be demoralizing.
        My recent post Pre-Order the Ebook!

        1. Horrendous example of how a company should not be run. But a lot of people thrive on power which frequently makes them behave in the kind of ways you describe. Lamentable, to put it mildly.

  21. Thanks for this post on the importance of ideas. As the shift from a 'how to make' to 'what to make' business reality sets in, the increasing value of ideas, from employees, customers, etc. cannot be understated. There are a few social software vendors working with some of the top global companies on better managing ideas across their organization. Check out for insights on the future of streamlined, optimized idea management to fuel continous innovation and thank you again for this post!

  22. I definitely agree that ideas lost often tie directly to money lost, but I can't emphasize enough that creating an environment that rewards new ideas isn't something you do on a "one time basis". You can't simply put out a Suggestion Box and then never open it up to see what's inside. Instead, you've got to build the trust with your employees that ideas will be listened to, valued and acted upon if you really to see success in this area.
    My recent post Effective Email Marketing Strategies

    1. Agree with you Sarah and that's exactly the whole point of the article. Having a box isn't the way for harvesting ideas. You have to make staff feel their ideas are welcome and that you respect them. If not, forget it.

  23. Thanks for sharing a great post. It's interesting as I run a business but don't employ staff (although I used to) and am always coming up with ideas! So for me it's about creating a support network where I can brainstorm and either toss them or try and turn them into reality:)
    My recent post Too much to do? And not enough Time!

  24. You explain a extremely productive and useful operate surroundings. I do come to feel, nevertheless, that the leader of the function location has to be of the correct mindset for this kind of creative brainstorming to get place and be successful. There are many leaders who come to feel threatened by others beneath them and consequently, stifle any inventive genius that could be hiding under the surface area. My best recollections of company lifestyle are from the exact circumstance you describe. Our weekly status conferences have been fantastic. Suggestions were tossed close to, mentioned, and the collective inventiveness that came out of these meeting was set to truly good use with very good outcomes.

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  25. Part 2.

    Teacher: Who can answer this question? 10 x 10 = ? Yes, Billy?
    Billy: 99.
    Teacher: Very good Billy. There are a few narrow-minded old fogies who insist that the only correct answer is 100. However, even if we pretend they are right, you said 99. That makes you 99% correct. Hooray for Billy, Hooray at last, Hooray for Billy, head of the Class.

    If you are laughing (or perhaps not) you don't understand how bad things have been in education and why things are so bad in business here in the States.
    My recent post The Path of the Trajectory

  26. Great article, Catarina.

    I do agree with Dianne. Positive reinforcement for a job well done. However, in my country, some of the concepts have been disparaged beyond value by the people who "value" them.

    The ideology of not to long ago was that youngsters underperformed because they did not feel empowered. The solution, by way of metaphor, "Give Billy a Cookie, he will feel good about himself, and he will learn to read." This replaced, "Johnny learns to read, give him a cookie."

    The result: People in American Business expect to be rewarded on the basis of what they will do if they feel good about themselves if they are rewarded first.

    "Positive reinforcement of negative behaviour is a disincentive to improve." Slim Fairview

    My recent post The Path of the Trajectory

  27. Hi Catarina, you describe a very productive and valuable work environment. I do feel, however, that the leader of the work place has to be of the right mindset for this type of creative brainstorming to take place and be effective. There are many leaders who feel threatened by others beneath them and therefore, stifle any creative genius that could be hiding under the surface. My best memories of corporate life are from the exact situation you describe. Our weekly status meetings were wonderful. Ideas were tossed around, discussed, and the collective creativity that came out of those meeting was put to really good use with very positive results.
    My recent post Love That F-O-U-R Letter Word!

    1. Glad we agree Julie. Yes unfortunately quite a few leaders feel threatened by colleagues being creative and innovative. It's a shame since the companies they run will lose out as a result.

  28. People love to feel valued and empowered. I’ve always found that one of the most effective ways to encourage (and reward) employees is by providing them with a platform to brainstorm and freely share their ideas in a team setting. Teams should have a clear purpose. All teams need to set goals and work together to meet them. Of course, management does need to commit to taking the teams input seriously and act on their suggestions for this to work. Otherwise, employees will not feel valued and empowered.
    My recent post Does Your Klout Score Fit Into Your Social Media Strategy?

  29. Hi Catarina. Nice post, really nice. From the other hand there are many top-managers who prefer working stuff more than creative. When you have office in NY, accountant in London and production in Ukraine, your managers can't understand all steps of the process, because they see only their fragment of the model. So their aims may be wrong and solutions too.
    My recent post Important: Your own history

    1. Glad you like it Nat.

      Maybe you should try having Ukraine look at New York and vice versa. You may be surprised at how people looking at routines from the outside can make a positive difference.

  30. Hi Catarina. Thsoe are all excellent suggestions for encouraging ideas. I particularly like brainstorming as a way to just let people think without putting on all the pre-conditions. One of the groundrules I use when facilitating is that "there are no stupid ideas".
    Thanks for the post
    My recent post Powerful Books: The Power of Books

  31. Hi again Catarina,
    I think my first comment above was meant for a different post! Who doesn't like to be noticed or praised for a good idea? I imagine many more employees would feel valued and needed if their ideas were solicited and implemented. As a result these employees would be more emotionally invested in the companies they work for. I wonder if Google or Apple have data to prove that their approach increases productivity.
    My recent post Six Content Marketing Myths – Digital Marketing Wisdom for Businesses

  32. Employees are full of ideas — they just need to be tapped. Unless they feel their ideas will be respected they won't open their mouths for fear of being ridiculed, ignored or even chastised for having the temerity to speak up.

  33. Great article Catarina. It is a good leader who recognizes the ideas and contributions of others. I have always taken the mentor road when in a management position and I have reaped the rewards of that.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

  34. Hi Catarina,

    By encouraging participation and giving credit can make such a difference. It doesn't have to begin on a big scale, however when ideas are actioned and others see it then it motovates others to not be hesitant in putting their ideas forward.

  35. it's amazing the results that can be achieved when people from different departments and different levels come together to brainstorm. The key is to set an environment whereby everyone's voice is heard and no idea is unworthy of being heard. This is a great article Catarina.

  36. I enjoyed the blog post and the comments. The last point was the most powerful. I agree that Apple and Google have excelled in this area. Well done.

  37. Too many people forget that how they communicate with their employees (which includes more listening than talking) sets the tone for their whole organization. If your people don't feel like you are listening they are not going to bother to talk. It is a learned skill to know how to make people feel heard even if you believe you are listening.

    Thanks for sharing Catarina!

  38. You have written about a vital concept Catarina. All humans have a longing desire to feel important. What better way to indulge them than by putting aside a coporate egos and allowing them to brainstorm along with the "bigwigs". I wonder how this concept would impact work ethic and productivity in currently stagnant companies.

    1. Agree with you Keyuri. Actually believe it would have a really positive impact on work ethic and productivity in currently stagnanat companies. Far too many people are being managed badly and ethics obviously suffer by managers treating them like numbers. Make them feel important and the company will benefit.

  39. This is a very important subject. I am a small business owner. I just hired my first employee, a personal assistant. Although it isn't the same as a large corporation, your article is still applicable.

    I definitely ask for his input a lot and then sift through the ideas, selecting the ones that align with my goals. In a way we are partners, each striving to expand the two companies I have. If I do well, so will he!

  40. Know your people and you will know what they can do and then you can ask them straight out for their ideas. I am always flattered when I can see that someone has taken the trouble to get to me and what I can do. This is a huge compliment and shows respect. This respect is returned by offering ideas.

  41. Good article, Catarina! Nice Suggestion Guy!

    Another way to bring about innovation is to give your team conflicting goals. For example, an auto company can give its engineers conflicting goals of developing a car which can attain a top speed of 225 mph & at the same provide a good mileage of over 27 miles per gallon of gasoline fuel.

  42. Good stuff, again, Catarina.

    I'm a great believer in encouraging ideas from those "at the coal face" and implemented an electronic "Suggestions Box" system at my company in South Africa where we rewarded people with significant cash bonuses for ideas that improved process/procedure, enhanced customer satisfaction, etc. The awards were made at our monthly company-wide communication sessions so everyone was fully aware of the ideas, who had proposed them and what the award was.

    Over the years we had some great input – after all, those doing the job are best placed to figure out how to do it better…

    1. Good way of doing it Guy. Did some people feel shy about standing up and presenting their ideas? Did they come forward with ideas even without the bonus system or was that necessary to make the system work?

      1. We didn't ask the people to present their ideas – rather I summarised these when doing the communications session and handing out the awards. We had some ideas before the incentive system, but once it was formalised and people could see that "management" took their input and ideas seriously we got a lot more.

          1. We did do some brainstorming at times, but on an informal, ad hoc basis. If there was a suggestion that was incomplete, I'd sit with the person to flesh it out somewhat so we could determine whether it made sense or not.

          2. Not really formal brainstorming, but rather I would sit with the appropriate management people, and any others we thought appropriate, and develop the idea more fully if necessary.

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