This post is in partnership with Entrepreneur. The article below was originally published at Entrepreneur.com.
By John Boitnott, Entrepreneur.com
Business stagnation left unchecked leads to lower employee productivity, decreased consumer interest and smaller profit margins. The antidote is ongoing innovation of new and creative ideas that make possible high levels of business success. Business owners must realize that innovation requires more than just passion and hard work. To help get you started, here are five ways to keep innovating your business for optimal effectiveness:
1. Listen to feedback, good or bad.
Whether it’s from a customer, a distributor, an employee or your family, you’re bound to hear a few negative comments about your business is run.
"Rather than dismiss negative feedback defensively as unworthy of your time, take a moment to really listen to all ideas, and consider making changes as appropriate,” says Brandon Perton, owner of the Old School Game Vault.
You won't take every suggestion you get but every sincere suggestion is a good start to a conversation about how to improve things. Keep all ideas on the table.
2. Put brainstorming sessions on your calendar.
Brainstorming sessions are one of the most effective ways to be innovative and to generate new ideas for your business. Schedule brainstorming every month or six weeks, or as appropriate for your business. Gather the leaders of your company and encourage them to throw out every idea they can imagine, regardless of how crazy it may seem. Work as a team to select and implement the best ideas.
3. Take someone else’s idea.
Study the companies that lead the pack in workplace innovation. Consider Google (goog), which provides areas for napping for its employees, or Salesforce.com, which had an annual sales growth rate of 36.6 percent. Borrow and adapt the polices and practices of companies you respect as particularly effective, successful or creative. It's not like they've trademarked it.
4. Start asking better questions.
If you are fresh out of ideas to improve your company, start asking your employees and customers questions. Use social media sites to run contests and host discussions asking customers what they want to see. Ask how your brand could be improved upon. This will give you a great opportunity both for generating ideas and connecting with your customers in a meaningful way.
5. Find creative solutions.
Innovation is about generating ideas and putting those ideas into action in ways that haven't been done before. According to Benedictine University's blog on entrepreneurial pursuits, once you clearly define a problem that needs a solution, brainstorm to come up with something creative that solves customer pain points in ways that improve upon whatever solution they're currently using. Of course, you must also be able to explain your product in terms that are easy to understand in order to get investors to back you.
Innovating your business often takes the equivalent of a mental full court press. Leave no stones unturned. Collect ideas from leaders in the industry or even rivals. Schedule brainstorming sessions. Listen to feedback from employees. Engage customers on social media. Once you’ve collected ideas, it’s time to put together a plan to make them happen. Meet with the people in your company who will put these ideas into practice and get on the same page. Then, hopefully, watch as your business becomes more successful.
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