Creativity and Innovation
Creative Thinking: How is More of it Best Encouraged?
One of the most important traits of a workplace leader, creative thinking, is essentially the ability to think in new and different ways when applied to everyday problems. In this regard, contrary to popular belief, every leader can and should be creative, at least some of the time, and in this brief article we’ll explore how this might occur and where creative thinking, in general, might be applied.
Before we look at areas of application for creative thinking let’s initially focus on how we can become more creative and/or devote more time to this activity. The first thing to say is that creativity needs a leader to have time to think and reflect about his or her biggest and most challenging issues and problems. If this isn’t available (too much work or work life seems to be a mad rush from one task to the next) then the first change is to “carve out” some time every day to ask the question, “what are the alternative ways we might tackle the most pressing/important issues that we need to be considering?” And once we have committed some extra and regular time to his kind of thinking, the other skill set for every leader to develop is to start asking many more carefully considered questions and then engage in active listening, rather than making quick decisions and talking or issuing commands too hastily. This is somewhat counter-intuitive for many leaders, who often think they are there to appear confident and “call-the-shots”. However, this can stifle creativity and innovation, if done to excess, so a leader has to learn to curb this urge.
So if we now have more time and a more listening and question-oriented approach to what areas should we broadly apply our creative thinking?
Being more creative about better marketing, customer acquisition and service
Although marketing and customer acquisition will very much depend upon the size of an organization, the industry or sector in which it operates and how mature or long it has been around, there is always some room for creativity or new ways of doing things differently or better in this realm. This is mainly because customer expectations change and there is always competition (some of whom are new and some of whom change their approach to customers too). Creative thinking and questions here are therefore best aimed at what customers want and how well these needs are actually being met. If the answer is not well enough the discussion can quickly turn to creative ways to change the situation.
Being more creative about employee/team well-being
No matter what the business or organizational type, even a highly technological one, people are always at the heart of the operation. As a result, finding creative ways in which people can best and most happily perform as individuals and as teams is critical. In this area creative thinking is often best aimed at questions such as “how do we create a high performing culture, in what better ways can we align organizational and individual values, which people across the organization can best work together and how and who amongst our employees has the most skill, knowledge or talent to help us succeed the most, etc.? But the questions to be asked in the people sphere don’t stop here. We can often be creative about the best size and compositions of teams, ways in which they are led, performance measurement systems that provide the greatest motivation and fair rewards and even how communication systems can be better streamlined or improved? It might even include questions about what is the most creative use of workspace and conditions under which people might feel most relaxed or inspired. In the end, we know the more engaged and happy employees are, the more creative contribution they are likely to make.
Being more creative about workplace operations and productivity
Although productivity can take many forms, depending upon the particular workplace, creativity and innovative thinking can be the major force behind much greater potential effectiveness and efficiency across the organization as a whole. This often means applying creative thinking to current major workplace processes and looking for new ways to get things done (faster, with less cost, to a higher level of quality etc.). Once again, insightfully asked questions are likely to offer up many possible ways to streamline operations in new ways and question examples here might be “how long is our order to delivery cycle, how quickly do we deliver products or services (internally and externally) and how good are we at recovering from mistakes when mistakes or errors are made, what do our suppliers or customers tell us in terms of what could be operationally better than it is now”, etc.?
Being more creative about overall financial health
All businesses, even government offices and non-profits have to “add-value” or make sure that they spend money wisely and create at least as much as they spend, and ideally a lot more. In a for profit company this would be simply stated as generating as much profit for the organization as possible. This simple outcome can be achieved in a range of ways however, so teams have considerable choice available to them both in terms of how to invest its money (usually in people, fixed assets, equipment and projects, etc.) and how to create an outcome or series of outcomes that are valuable to customers (and for which they will happily pay). Creative thinking in this sphere can and should be applied by asking questions about “how can we best access capital and at what costs, where should we invest our money and why out of all of the alternatives available to us, are we getting acceptable returns for all of our projects, can we control costs/cash flows more effectively and how might this be done, are we missing out on revenue streams that we could readily access given our resources”, etc.?
As we can see then there are many areas in which creative thinking can be applied and every one of an organization’s leaders can contribute. All they need to do is find regular time to think in more creative and “lateral” ways and learn to ask searching questions about why and how things work today and how they might be improved tomorrow.