Walk into almost any sportsfield manager’s shop or watch the turf team out on the field and you will likely see several great ideas put in to use. Cleverness fuels our craft, and I’m always looking for better ways to do things in an industry with few standards or best management practices. I’m continuously fascinated by the ingenuity I see at almost any facility I visit or see on social media.

Think about it.

One good idea – a simple thought – improves the operation and product for years to come. A good idea costs nothing, but the benefits can last generations. No doubt, we can thank innovation for our historically high standards of living today.

Those who supply the sportsfield world with equipment and products understand the importance of innovation very well. Look at all the commercially available sportsfield and turfgrass management technologies that have come on line in the last 35 years or so. It’s hard to keep up.

So why wouldn’t this creative energy work just as well on the crew level? Maybe it’s time to ramp up some creative energy on the turf team. How do you cultivate great ideas in your program? The benefits are too great not to take a few simple steps to create a fertile environment on your turf team for innovation.

People think creatively when they are in a comfortable environment. Running a constantly high-intensity type of operation where your staff feels every inch of pressure all the time yields few innovations. Employees try to stay hidden in such a work environment and rarely offer their ideas. Let everyone on the staff know that you encourage them to bring up ideas for discussion, no matter how dumb they may sound at first.

I remember a keynote speaker at an STMA conference some years back explaining her favorite way to ignite innovative thinking. She recommended a “Stupid Idea Friday” where the informal crew contest focused on coming up with the most stupid idea for improvement in the operation. It’s not only fun and supportive team bonding and development, it also teaches everyone to start thinking from different angles about better ways to accomplish the mission.

Friday was chosen as a typically relaxed time at work, so adjust accordingly in your situation. You’d be surprised what can come out of such a silly undertaking. Best of all, it creates that fertile innovation environment all week, where your staff feels safe to generate and discuss ideas they may have. Sometimes dumb ideas spark brilliant ones.

Rewarding ingenuity by someone on the turf team goes a long way, even with small gestures. I used to order sheets of authentic Buckeye helmet stickers from The Ohio State University bookstore. I’ve always liked helmet stickers, and theirs are perhaps the most storied. So I created the “Buckeye Award.” Generate a good idea that improved our field management or solved a problem, and you received a genuine Buckeye helmet sticker presented to you in front of the entire crew. I even gave myself Buckeye Awards. We’d stick them on our radios or lockers for display and friendly bragging. When someone thought they had a good idea, and it wasn’t immediately cut down for valid reasons by the crew, they would exclaim “Buckeye!” Then it would come to me for adjudication. Worked like a charm.

Not a Buckeye fan? Fear not, nearly every school has small round stickers at their campus bookstore. So what will your team innovation award be called? My highly coveted Rammie Award sticker from Colorado State was for heroic efforts.

Don’t be stingy with your innovation awards. Some ideas are more significant than others. Explain this to your team and award all the good ideas that end up working, big or small. Keep a log and include them in annual reviews. Most importantly, make sure the innovation does not create unsafe working conditions and complies with applicable workplace health and safety regulations.

Network the industry. Read the professional magazines all the way through the back page. Share and take ideas with your peers and take your innovation to the next level. Good ideas can be game changers, and innovators separate themselves from the competition.