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How to Spur Innovation Inside Your Company

First published on LinkedIn.

All software companies talk about innovation but how many really live it, and thrive on it, successfully exploiting new ideas? Innovative thinking is crucial to improving processes, bringing new and better products and services to market, and increasing efficiency.

Innovation is also what makes a great entrepreneur. Just the spark of an idea can create something truly disruptive and game changing.

Critical to the innovation process at an enterprise software house like Unit4 is engaging people. But it has to be done in the right way. Large brainstorming sessions among teams that look at the same problems day in and day out rarely yield good results and action.

Next week we’re hosting our annual Crazy Lab Days innovation event, and this year it’s going to bigger and better than ever. Crazy Lab Days is an internal event that empowers all our people to identify and act on ideas for new products and services that they believe we should explore. It encourages cross-department problem solving, and brings an entrepreneurial approach to product development, focusing on fast action and fast results.

If you haven’t heard of Crazy Lab Days before, it’s a week long event – Monday to Friday – that builds up to an intense pitch competition at the end of the week.

More than 50 teams from around the business collaborated and submitted ideas initially, and five teams (plus a bonus team, as there were just too many great ideas) were shortlisted for the event, held in Granada, Spain. Around 50 participants from Spain, Poland, Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands will meet next week to create and build incredible software and apps.

Monday – there’s an event kick off before the teams start building their prototypes and business pitches, with mentorship from coaches.

We hold social and other sessions during the week to give the teams some time out.

Friday morning – Teams pitch their presentations to judges and the other attendees and a Jury Award is presented.

The team presentations are recorded and published throughout the business so everyone can vote for a “People’s Choice award”. The winning apps are built into our product roadmap.

I believe creating an innovative environment and encouraging creative thinking is key to getting the most from people. Our job is simply to provide the environment to capture ideas, where people feel their ideas are welcomed and encouraged. We want to encourage risk taking and experimentation because that’s what leads to greatness. And what’s really great about these events is that it’s open to everyone in the team, not just product developers. It encourages ideas and knowledge that’s trapped in one part of our business to be shared with others. Innovation is not limited to techies, or product developers. We have a shared responsibility, and everyone should feel involved in building our future.

Innovation is embedded in our culture, and events like Crazy Lab Days encourage people to challenge the status quo, and take new approaches to their daily work, but also to supporting the company as a whole. Good luck to all those taking part next week. And most importantly, have fun!

Mike Ettling - Chief Executive Office at Unit4

Mike Ettling

I’m a CEO, Investor, builder of world class teams, champion of diversity and continuous learner, and I’m passionate about people. From my first leadership role in the Boy Scouts, to exec positions in the tech industry, my career has revolved around elevating, engaging and enabling people. I joined Unit4 to get the market as excited in our unique approach to enterprise tech as I am. We’re building systems that change how people experience work, and the impact will be huge.

Outside of work I’m a family man, a Liverpool supporter, and a proud South African.