Creativity can be a tricky and elusive creature to befriend, best thriving in a natural, candid environment or situation, which is free of pressure and expectation. It doesn’t come from simply sitting the team in front of a whiteboard to brainstorm new ideas, nor replacing everyone’s office chairs with beanbags, or sticking a lava lamp on their desks… Some people also appear to be naturally more creative than others but in fact, they are just more adept at tapping into this. Ultimately, different techniques work for different people but an organisation can facilitate this process and inspire better creativity by establishing an effective Culture of Innovation.
Though seemingly contradictory to its very nature, creativity also best thrives within constraints and management. I.e. it is easier to think creatively where there are challenges or limitations, rather than simply a blank sheet of endless possibility! Similarly, creativity needs to be managed and held within a formal business structure, or it won’t be productive.
So then, what is the best way to incite a culture of innovation? And how do you then maintain this? You don’t want creative avenues to be too sporadic or worse, dry up completely. Ideally, organisations should be striving for a steady and sustainable flow of ideas. Here are 5 pointers to get you on the right track…
1. BUSINESS PURPOSE
Having a clear Business Purpose is extremely important, but what’s more key, is having your team buy into it. Employees will perform best when inspired and working for something they believe in. If employees are motivated, passionate and empowered by their role in the organisation, they will naturally want it to succeed and prosper. This alone is possibly one of the most powerful assets to an organisation and will automatically help to generate a focused source of creativity and innovation.
This is an important attribute to exercise in many ways but in this case, we’re particularly referring to a sense of organisational transparency. Sharing information openly helps to nurture a collaborative and inclusive atmosphere, where both information and ideas can be exchanged and equally questions can be answered with ease and confidence. We’re not saying businesses and their leaders need to suddenly divulge every single detail but it is sometimes easy to falsely assume that employees automatically know what’s going on, when actually they have no idea. This can lead to speculation, which can be hard to control, and easily and very quickly become detrimental to culture.
It is easy for silo-cultures to develop, so why not take the first step and be proactive in encouraging openness? Not only can this help to bridge the gaps across a variety of individuals, teams and leadership alike, but it also provides a great way to motivate, enthuse and instil a positive and unique work ethic.
Whilst you want to encourage more open creativity across the organisation and present opportunities to exercise this, you also want to ensure this is productive and not wasted time. Enter: your shiny and clear innovation strategy! Research proves that the optimum strategy works around a 70/20/10 approach (subject to individual organisation’s needs); i.e. 70% incremental innovation, 20% adjacent and 10% radical. This split helps to ensure that both time and resources are being invested efficiently and effectively.
Innovation and creativity need to be sustainable and whilst encouraging teams to think outside the box, it’s not solely about the next ‘big idea’ (i.e. the radical). Innovation can occur and be effective on a variety of scales, and it’s important that an organisation’s strategy defines and communicates this clearly.
4. LET’S TALK ABOUT FAILURE
Again, this comes back to a sense of openness. Failure is not a taboo subject; the ‘he-who-must-not-be-named’ of the innovation world. Mistakes are in fact valuable lessons. They are inevitable and are simply part of a process. As long as we learn from them, mistakes are okay.
Likewise, failure shouldn’t be a case of ‘whodunnit’. Everything seems easier with hindsight and pointing the finger is not only a waste of time as it’s not going to change what happened but it is also not going to encourage a positive and confident culture. So rather than getting stuck and becoming preoccupied by the past, turn failure into an opportunity for improvement by encouraging questions, discussion and free thought.
5. FUN? AT WORK? SURELY NOT!
As a rather fitting final note, one of the best ways to encourage creativity is by making it fun. This doesn't have to be costly, but look to inspire creativity with creativity! Adding a competitive edge could be a good option and will certainly make those involved think a little bit further outside the box. Just remember, it’s not necessarily the results you need to focus on, but rather the process and mind-set. Nevertheless, it is important that employees see good ideas being taken seriously and capitalised on, not only for business benefits but also in terms of rewarding and incentivising employees further.
Updated March 14 2017