In the new year, our first thoughts about are new things. New ideas, new company directions, new goals, new markets. You get the point. And as long as leaders or companies are still operating within their core values and vision, a fresh take on key facets of a business is critical.

The best way to get into a new state is to think differently, then carry that thinking through into execution. This is the creativity-to-innovation road map, where previously unexplored or nonexistent ideas are manifested into actionable strategies that change the course of a business.

This kind of thinking isn't easy and it doesn't just happen because the calendar has turned to another year--there is no instant pivot that you or your company can take to become more innovative. However, it IS absolutely critical and it IS something you can get started. Now is as good a time as any, since after all, you're already in the mindset to charge ahead.

First, take stock of what you already have for an innovation foundation. The first place any business should look to is their own people. You have a wealth of product, market, customer and operational knowledge within the walls of your business. Whether you run a three-person shop or an Inc. 500/5000 company with thousands of employees, your existing team is potentially one of your greatest innovation differentiators.

Your workforce can't be a differentiator, though, unless you tap into the ideas and the expertise therein. This is what I call collaborative innovation. Collaborative innovation means tapping into more than just a person's knowledge, but also their unique skill set, personality, and mode of thinking and acting. More than that, it means actually utilizing these characteristics by harnessing the different ways that person exhibits them.

That is an incredibly difficult task and here's why. Even the most common modes of thinking--in our database we've found that approximately 17 percent of people have preferences in Analytical and Structural thinking and 12 percent have preferences in Social and Conceptual--still represent a relatively small number. This isn't even taking into account the behavioral tendencies that would make each of these people potentially very different.

Your company has myriad combinations of thinking and behavior, as well as other traditional elements of diversity like gender, age, experience, etc. Finding the way to collaborate as a group to create better ideas means using these differences to learn and grow from one another.

How to do it? Take these two tips into account.

Tip #1: Think outside the norm

Diverse Brains: Involving people is ideal, but developing ideas from a broader swath of collaborators shouldn't turn into a group-think mentality--this can be equally as damaging (see Patton, George S.--"If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."). This tendency, however damaging, is incredibly common and may come with the territory when working with creative types. Think beyond your marketing team, your innovative creative types. They're great, but what happens if your ideas are all being brought by the same types of thinkers? Even incredibly creative ideas start to look the same...and it's tough to actually get a plan in place to make them happen.

Researchers from Stanford, Columbia and Northwestern echoed these findings--in groups that form through natural selection, the most common bases of member attraction are similarity, proximity and prior acquaintance. These processes, while maximizing relationship potential, often minimize the potential for learning and innovation (find a report on their findings here).

Tip #2: Collaboration comes from everyone and everywhere

Create freedom for ideas: Without red tape, groups can come up with the best solutions, according to MIT Sloan Management Review. Managers used to directing the company's innovation efforts must give their workers the freedom to come up with ideas on their own and pursue them without lots of red tape. Provide a broad vision (and perhaps some budget and timing parameters), but don't micromanage or you'll stifle the innovation process.

Think in a holistic way: When you are thinking about innovation, where's the first place you go? Product, process? According to Forbes, product innovation alone isn't cutting it, which makes sense. As organizations become flatter, ideas that start out with products often morph into different departments and competencies--as well they should. If you can get ahead of the game and think about innovation from a more holistic perspective and from out-of-the-ordinary parts of the organization, you'll be primed to attack where your competitors are not. Once you make that leap, one key is ensuring that you find the experts from these varied disciplines to join the innovation. Don't leave it to a creative team to find a way to improve manufacturing as part of a larger innovation plan to cut product costs...the manufacturing team and leaders are your innovation engines when it comes to that part of the process.

These two key tips point to a bigger business case--as organizations and their customers, clients, vendors, and partners become more interconnected, so too must innovation and creativity. Your innovation efforts in 2015 can be built on collaboration, but only if everyone in the company is committed to being part of the process.

Cheers to a great year and big ideas.