I love innovation and learning about clever new ideas -- especially ones that will enhance my life or the lives of others. Some leave me a little cold, though. Boeing (NYSE:BA) and European budget airline Ryanair, for example, have recently been exploring the possibility of planes with standing room in place of some seats. The thinking is that some customers will be able to pay less for their ticket and instead of ending up strapped a seat, will be strapped to a pole or stool. Hmm ... it doesn't sound so enticing, but perhaps the cheaper tickets will draw business.

More exciting to me is a concept being kicked around by IBM (NYSE:IBM). According to BusinessWeek, the company is looking for ways to incorporate employee performance into 401(k) plans. The company already has a very generous 401(k) plan, especially in this environment, where many companies have cut back the degree to which they match employee contributions. American Express (NYSE:AXP) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), for example, have recently suspended their matching, while Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) has reduced it.

Win-win
If it comes to pass, the beauty of the new proposition is that it appears to be a win-win solution. Employees who excel receive more company contributions, which will leave them with a heftier nest egg, come retirement. Employers will be paying out more, but only for exceptional performance, which should also be benefiting the company.

The idea isn't entirely revolutionary, though. It's kind of a variation on simple profit-sharing plans, where employees are typically rewarded in relation to company or individual performance. Some companies with profit-sharing plans include Walgreen (NYSE:WAG), Home Depot, and Nike (NYSE:NKE).

Personally, I think the most exciting recent development in the world of 401(k)s is auto-enrollment, a growing trend where companies sign new employees up for 401(k) accounts by default. This combats our human tendency to procrastinate and is resulting in many more people saving for retirement -- perhaps sometimes without even realizing it!

With so many workers seeing their retirement on the ropes, I hope that innovations like these continue to develop. Otherwise, we'll be forced to resort to cost-cutting measures like flying strapped to poles in our golden years.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of American Express and Home Depot. American Express, Home Depot, and Sprint Nextel are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. The Fool owns shares of American Express. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.