This article on workforce innovation has worthwhile reminders for identifying opportunities and creating new products and services.  I have posted or shared a lot of the ideas that in the article so I will focus on examples and recommendations that offer a fresh perspective.

What are the prerequisites?

Lay a base of trust. Mix risk-taking with job security. Subtract strict chains-of command and barriers that impede ideas from rising. Add professional development. Separate rewards into two units: excellence in routine activities and efforts to find breakthroughs. Don’t forget a dash of fun. And when trials result in errors? Openly discuss failure to learn from it.

What are the raw ingredients? (emphasis mine)

“Great innovative companies have created the right environment, attracted the right employees who constantly want to learn, and they’ve figured out how to get people highly engaged in innovative processes without fear and without the dominance of quarterly earnings,” says Edward Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

How do you know if its working?

One metric: track how much of a company’s revenue comes from products introduced within the past five years.

What role does learning (not training) play in this?

“Learning is part of the culture,” says Laurie Gilbert, vice president of restaurant innovation at McDonald’s. “Candidly, fun is a big part of the culture.”

Once a quarter, the center has its own version of the Food Network TV show Iron Chef. Upon arrival, a group of employees is given a theme and told to create a lunch for everyone else inspired by the theme, using only ingredients available in a McDonald’s kitchen.

What can you do to promote innovation? (emphasis mine)

Zebra Technologies Corp. has a special banquet for employees who have earned patents in a particular year. The company also offers cash awards, and honorees receive certificates or plaques and are recognized at quarterly meetings broadcast globally. “We do a variety of things to encourage people to take some shots at the basket,” says Michael Terzich, senior vice president of global sales and marketing at Illinois-based Zebra.  Bally Technologies Inc. offers rewards such as iPads to the top-rated inventions posted online and voted on by employees. The slot-machine-maker also honors “inventor of the year” and “inventor of the quarter.”