Many companies honor employees who come up with great new-product ideas. Voyant Technologies, in Westminster, Colo., rewards workers for less-than-shining suggestions, too. Voyant, which makes voice-conferencing equipment, invites its 200 employees to submit their ideas through the company intranet. Winners, chosen quarterly, get time and funding to pursue their ideas. Also-rans -- people who submit what CEO Bill Ernstrom calls the "best almost-ideas" -- get the Elisha Gray Award, named for the hapless inventor who waited too long to file for a patent on his invention: the telephone. In Ernstrom's view, recognizing runners-up is critical to fueling future innovation. "It says, 'This person thought differently enough -- either correctly or incorrectly -- to get somebody's attention," Ernstrom says. In other words, it really is OK to try and fail.
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