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The Key to Real Innovation Is Cross-Pollination — Here Are 10 Ways to Implement It in Your Business Transform your business with this unique approach to sparking innovation.

By Chris Kille Edited by Chelsea Brown

Key Takeaways

  • True innovation requires looking beyond your own industry and integrating diverse viewpoints, experiences and disciplines.
  • Innovation thrives when you expose your team to different worlds through techniques like immersion sessions, "what if?" workshops, cross-industry mentorship programs and customer collaboration.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Ah, innovation! It is that flair in the entrepreneurs' eyes, the burning desire in their belly, the wind that supports their startup's takeoff. But here's the kicker: Real innovation isn't just about looking into the future; it is also about considering looking around. Envision a world where ideas are like bees, which fly from one field to another and exchange pollen as they go, giving the flowery landscape of interconnected innovations.

Let's dive into the notion of cross-pollination for innovation, where the dissimilarities in the field aren't just accepted; they are the preferred mode of operation.

So, before we get to the topic itself, I want to clarify things here. This isn't your usual "go against the flow" sermon. Nope. We are going to get down to the nitty-gritty of walking-your-talk, boots-on-the-ground entrepreneurship to make innovation your business's bread and butter — and not just any type of innovation, but the kind of innovation that can make one say: "Now, why didn't I think of that?"

Now, with full faith, we'll be setting off, my fellow groundbreakers of the future, on this voyage of exploration and discovery. The following list is what I call the ten commandments of cross-pollination that will spark innovation.

Related: How to Transform Your Workplace Culture with Cross-Pollination

1. Celebrate the renaissance spirit

Leonardo da Vinci, the one and only Renaissance man, was not merely engaged in art and science for the fun of it. He realized the world was all interconnected. Here, the most important thing is forming a Renaissance team. Invite team members to pursue their side hustles, hobbies and other interests. The coder, who also is a photographer, can bring a unique feel to UI design. DJ and marketing moonlighters could have a bird's eye view of consumer behavior. Diversity of thought and experience is the soil for innovative ideas to grow.

2. Industry immersion sessions

One day each month, dive deep into an industry that is completely different from yours. If you are in tech, switch to hospitality. In finance? Look at what is happening in healthcare. Make a workshop where the team members will be able to share their ideas and together think of ways to apply them to your projects. Such sessions will be your innovation incubators.

3. "What if?" workshops

Wonder is the birth of invention, isn't it? Conduct frequent "What if?" workshops, in which the only rule is that there are no wrong ideas. What if we copied the fast-food model into personal finance? What if the next time we designed software interfaces, we did it like a theme park map? This is where you encourage dreaming of flying in a blue sky and then work backward to find out if a practical application exists.

4. Cross-industry mentorship

Set up mentorship programs with professionals from other industries. These can be informal coffee talks or more structured mastermind sessions. The aim is to give a chance to discuss ideas, problems and solutions that can encourage innovation. A mentor from the fashion area could help a tech entrepreneur to realize that aesthetics are equally important as functionality.

5. The remix technique

"Nothing is ever original," they say — and they are actually right. Innovation in this case means taking old ideas and recombining them. Tell your team to take two things that are seemingly unrelated and combine them. It's like a food fusion of your business model (Thai tacos, anyone?).

Related: Great Minds Think Unalike — 3 Ways to Drive True Innovation Through Diversity

6. Fail forward

The fear of failure is innovation's greatest enemy. Establish a culture where failure is seen as a stepping stone to success. Talk about failures and lessons learned. When your team doesn't mind failing, they are more likely to take risks that will result in extraordinary advancements.

7. External idea incubators

You don't need to be restricted to the premises of your office while thinking of ideas. Engage in hackathons, industry meetups and innovation centers. These are the places where you have the chance to observe people outside of your own circle and how they come up with ideas and solutions. Moreover, it is a wonderful way to find possible co-creators or even future teammates.

8. Customer collaboration

Your customers serve as a repository of fresh ideas. Such customer input can be harnessed through the creation of forums, surveys or innovation labs in which customers can contribute ideas or feedback on new products or services. The benefits are not limited to a simple analysis of what your market wants, rather, it nurtures a feeling of belonging and oneness.

9. The sabbatical scheme

Google's "'20% time" policy illustrates how much employees can benefit from having the freedom to develop their own projects. Give it a shot, regardless of how much time you can devote to it, be it a few hours per week or a year-long sabbatical every couple of years. Such intermittency from usual activities could sometimes become the source of the most innovative ideas of your company.

10. The global gaze

Innovation knows no boundaries, so who are you to stop it? Look globally for inspiration. How do other countries go about solving business problems? What is recently produced there that is trending overseas? You might have missed some solutions if you have not been taught to consider the world as a whole.

Related: 5 Key Ways to Create an Innovation Culture

Innovation is a team-based game, not a solo sport. The diversity of mankind is a colorful and turbulent dance of thoughts, sensations and points of view. Through this nurturing of cross-pollination, you're not only sowing the seeds of innovation; you are kindling an entire habitat of creativity and advancement. So, join forces with the unfamiliar, and see how your enterprise will bloom into a genuinely game-changing entity. The world has opened up like an oyster, and the innovation pearl is the cross-pollination within. We are making it shine together.

Chris Kille

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder at EO Staff

Chris Kille in Boston, MA, innovates in business efficiency, focusing on Virtual Assistant services and Payment Processing tech. He identifies growth opportunities and streamlines operations to enhance profitability. Chris values networking for success and fosters partnerships for speedy growth.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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