The landscape of business has changed dramatically over the past several years. For decades, the focus has been on cost control and technology, whereas the current business climate has prompted a paradigm shift. Success for companies in the 21st century is now dependent upon creativity and innovation, both hailed as the most important contributors to the growth of the economy.
Creativity is the ability to develop meaningful new ideas through exercising imagination and originality. Contrary to popular belief, creativity is not relegated to a select few: we are all born creative. However, creativity is like a muscle: it grows stronger with repeated practice and exercise – and weaker with disuse.
Innovation is the practice of making changes to that which is established, using creativity to enhance and improve upon known concepts, practices, or processes. Similar to creativity, an innovation mindset becomes ingrained through building the habit of thinking in certain ways, and is sustained through a supportive environment.
Problems & Solutions
Unfortunately, despite recognizing creativity and innovation as critical tools for sustained success, many companies are slow to adapt to this new environment. At best, the few business leaders who truly understand how critical it is to initiate the shift within their organizations are at a loss at how to start the process. At worst, organizations merely pay lip service to the importance of creative thinking and having an innovation mindset, but do little to support it. These are the companies that encourage people to take risks and be innovative, but then punish them when they make mistakes or their ideas aren’t immediately lucrative.
The sad thing about both of the above scenarios is the supreme waste talent and resources that they produce. Brilliant employees become unmotivated and bored, merely going through the motions of their jobs, and the company’s greatest source of creativity and innovation lay dormant.
The good news is that leveraging the untapped, latent talents of the members of an organization can reverse this downward spiral. Through reigniting your workforce’s creative spark and inspiring innovation at all levels – from the top down and the bottom up – companies will be well on their way to improving employee engagement by helping people feel connected to and passionate about their work and their ability to meaningfully contribute to their company. Therefore, training your employees on creative thinking and innovation skills so that they not only understand the power of creative thinking, but they also have the tools to do so should be a top priority for your organization.
Four Tips for Reigniting Creativity and Inspiring Innovation
Whether you need to instill the creative spirit or revive flagging creative inspiration with the members of your organization, here are four ways to do so:
- Help individuals and teams get unblocked creatively. Often, the biggest blocks to creative, innovative thinking come from fears: fear of making a mistake and fear of failure. Further, people often feel creatively stymied when they perceive that there are no proper outlets for sharing ideas: that they’ll be criticized for original thinking, or that their unique concepts will be dismissed.Make it a policy to be more open-minded and to suspend judgement on ideas − especially in the early stages − and particularly with the unusual or seemingly random ideas. Encourage spontaneity and experimentation, and give people the responsibility and freedom to make mistakes.The more comfortable people feel with being able to fail and try again with few repercussions, the more they relax their guard and allow ideas to flow. They will relearn how to trust their creative “gut” and start the process of breaking down their creative blocks.
- Advocate and practice effective communication. Creativity and innovation flourish most in groups where there is fantastic communication: the sharing, listening to, and amplification of ideas − not only amongst the team members but with customers as well.Effective communication has two sides: listening and sharing. People with the best ideas are most often those who are adept listeners and so are the best leaders. They are stimulated by the concepts of others and connect the dots in novel ways to create even better ideas. Listening well requires being present, giving people your full attention, and relaxing your own agenda. Doing so allows you to hear the brilliance in others.Almost as important as listening is being able to clearly articulate and share ideas. In fact, companies with highly creative cultures support their employees in idea-selling, because “it’s not about good ideas. It’s about selling those ideas and making them happen,” according to Marketing guru Seth Godin. Learning presenting skills is a great way to give people the tools and the confidence to articulate and sell their concepts, making it easier for their great ideas to gain traction within the team and company.By learning to become excellent listeners and generous sharers, team members will become master communicators who practice a dynamic, responsive, and generous sharing and exchange of ideas.
- Champion a culture of creative collaboration. Forget the mythology of the lone genius cranking out innovations from a garage. People coming together to share ideas, compare observations, and brainstorm solutions to complex problems power inspired creativity and sustained innovation. Fostering and harnessing the creative abilities of a group produces a wider range of creative ideas and innovation solutions arising from the range of knowledge, experience, and perspectives of the individuals of the group.One of the best ways to help the people within your teams to create better together is to teach people to amplify the creative ideas of others. Our tendency is to try to find problems with another’s ideas, which brings ideations to a standstill. However, ideas blossom when team members get in the habit of responding to an offered idea not with a “Yes, but…”, but instead with a “Yes, AND…”Encouraging teaching and learning within the team is also powerful. Creating a culture of mentorship facilitates the brain-share of the more experienced members with the more junior, and not only brings up the whole level of the team, but also strengthens connections and trust, fueling strong collaboration down the road. Brand-new members coming into the team should be on-boarded with the innovation mindset of the group, so that they come into their new work environment ready to develop and share their ideas. The trust built by these dynamics binds the team members together in productive collaboration.
- Provide the resources to support and execute upon great ideas. It’s one thing to talk the creativity and innovation talk, but to actually walk that talk, the very necessary resources of time, money, manpower, training/methods, and materials must be available in order to support the workforce implementing their creative and innovative processes and products.Individuals and teams need the space to generate, develop, and experiment on ideas. Because of this, one of the most critical resources that encourage and support creativity and innovation is time. The best example of this is Google’s 20% time, which has created some of the most successful Google products.But time is not enough. Make sure there is budget for taking great ideas to the next level. Ensure that your initiative to cultivate creativity and spur innovation is strengthened by trainings and medium to long-term programs. Doing so will help build teams that are synergistic and can produce well together when it’s time to start moving their grand ideas to market.
Well-Worth the Effort
Once you get on-board with promoting creativity and innovation within your organization, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Even in the short-term, you’ll begin to see benefits such as improved teamwork and team cohesion, better employee engagement and productivity, increased attraction and retention of talented employees, and enhanced problem-solving and interaction.
By providing the resources that sustain and grow an enduring culture of creativity and innovation, you’ll make it safe for people in your organization to bust through their creative blocks in order to grow their ideas and experiment with them, generously listen to and share ideas, and creatively collaborate to generate innovative solutions as a team. The companies that prevail in upcoming years will boast both a creative and innovative leadership and workforce that, in tandem, will skyrocket the success of the company’s products and services.
So, are you ready to make a commitment to igniting creativity and inspiring innovation within your organization? Make the effort, and you’ll see how you can transform how you and your team work… for the better.
This article originally appeared in NDC Magazine and has been reprinted with permission.