In this era of rapid innovation, a new technological breakthrough can shake an entire industry in an afternoon, and consumers are hungry for the most advanced gadgets available. Businesses are constantly expected to be at the forefront of emerging technology.

When Corning’s “A Day Made of Glass” video series went viral in 2011, the company leaped in the spotlight. In the process, consumers and businesses alike found themselves considering the company's role as an innovator in specialty-glass technology for a wide range of uses.

For consumers, the roles of early adopter and a thought leader often become intertwined. Customers tend to gravitate toward companies that can speak credibly about new technologies and apply them to product development and business processes.

Related: Why Every Employee Needs to Be Part of Your Tech Team

Being at the forefront of emerging trends will make your business more sought after by the media as an authority within your industry sector and your staff will be viewed as capable of speaking with intelligence about the latest developments' impact on your niche or sector.

But being an early adopter doesn’t come naturally to every business -- nor can it be achieved overnight. Creating a culture of early adoption and keeping your business ahead of the curve requires a change in mindset at the leadership level. To grow a thriving business on the bleeding edge, savvy leaders would be wise to take some of the following steps:

1. Make the latest tools available to employees. Having the latest gadgets available for staffers to play with encourages a culture of innovation, experimentation and evangelism. It gets employees thinking about how new technology can be used and it encourages a cross-pollination of ideas. For example, when Google Glass was released, forward-thinking businesses made the product available for their employees to try and discuss.

Related: How to Motivate Creative Employees 

2. Encourage team members to engage with new technologies. For its own part, Google requires its employees to take days off to simply experiment with the latest technologies and test ideas. Ensure that your employees engage with the latest from Silicon Valley by asking them to take an hour from their workday to acclimate themselves with a gadget or tool. Or have an employee do a presentation summarizing the applications of a new device so your team can focus on its possible impact on your industry.

3. Create incentives and reward innovators. Give your employees a reason to keep up with tech news and drive innovation by rewarding those who do so. Grant the employee who discovered and implemented a new task-management platform a paid day off. Reward the staffer who forwarded the latest news to the rest of your team with a free lunch.

4. Lead with an early-adopter spirit. Cultivate a company mindset of curiosity by being a leader who embraces change and risk in the name of progress and cutting-edge disruption. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz revealed his hunger for innovation when he invested $25 million in Square -- a startup few knew about at the time. What seemed like a risky and questionable move to some ultimately paid off. Through collaboration with Square, Starbucks now accepts mobile payments globally, paving the way for other companies hopting to implement mobile-payment systems in their operations.

The pace of technological change is faster than ever before and businesses that wait too long to embrace innovation can easily be deemed irrelevant by consumers. Instead, infuse the early-adopter mindset throughout your company's culture -- and you may well end up being celebrated as a forward-thinking visionary within your industry.

Related: How to Inspire a Culture of Innovation