Sometimes, great ideas fall out of nowhere. But according to Kurt Scherer, you can set the conditions for innovation to occur. Scherer ought to know, too. He's the director of Booz Allen Hamilton's DC Innovation Center and leads the firm's national innovation hub strategy. The company has specialized in management consultancy since 1914; and, setting the stage for people to continuously produce ideas is Scherer's whole discipline. Here's what Scherer says is critical for encouraging great creativity and problem solving for the long term. 

1. Know the Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion.

Far too often, people say their organizations value diversity because they hit certain "statistical goals". They say, "We have X amount of people that are this age or this race or from this place." But are they inclusive? Does everyone at your organization, no matter their tenure, gender or ethnicity, truly feel engaged? Do they feel comfortable asking questions like what if? and why not? Diversity and volume of thought contribute to greater ideas, but inclusion is when people feel empowered to voice them.  

2. Provide Space (both types) to Collaborate and Share Ideas. 

In the age of a virtual workforce, it's important to remember the power of working side-by-side, laptop-to-laptop. To manifest innovation, you need a balance of physical and virtual space in which people can collaborate. The greatest value of a physical place is its ability to reinforce the virtual and increase the level of trust, a foundational component of innovation. 

In fact, the space must be purposefully designed. At the Booz Allen Innovation Center, every choice they made about the space was designed to spark creativity and collective ingenuity. All the aesthetics like lights, color scheme, and layout are intentional. Diverse space concepts from privacy booths and lounge areas to standing desks and walls you can write on, are all meant to improve the way people work. This team understands that space matters. And their design of space reflects their values of Booz Allen's mission to empower people to change the world.

3. Encourage Employees to Pursue Passions Beyond their Daily Work. 

It's crucial to empower employees to explore their purpose beyond the four walls of your organization. When employees know their personal interests are important to you, they feel valued. Those passions can expand untapped potential, lead to a generation of new ideas, and improve employee satisfaction and engagement at work. 

Over the past year, the firm expanded its Innovation Agenda to bring out the best ideas from its employees and encourage bold thinking. The excitement is so strong with their employees that they plug in beyond the traditional workday to dedicate their weekends and spare time on things like maritime cybersecurity hackathons, data-driven crowdsourcing challenges for social good and internal ideas festivals. 

4. Remember Leadership is Personal. 

Edwin Booz graduated college with a concentration in psychology. Subsequently, he genuinely believed that it was the people, not tools or methods, who achieved great results. Innovation is based on a foundation of trust. You have to be willing to share to generate ideas. To share, you have to trust and know people. In an age of machine learning, it's critical to remember that it is humans who innovate through authentic connections. 

"When you apply these fundamentals," Scherer says, "you're not just chasing after golden eggs--those single great ideas that can yield big returns. You're designing a better goose." 

Now you just need to decide what kind of goose you actually want. 

Published on: Dec 13, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.