Creativity and Innovation
Practical Ways for Everyone to Be More Creative/Innovative
Few CEOs or other senior leaders would disagree in theory that innovation is the lifeblood of any successful organization today, no matter what sector or industry it is in. However, for many organizations little innovation occurs in practice (most people seeming to want standard and familiar ways of doing things) and people at all levels seem to be missing that key driver of innovation: individual creativity.
Naturally, it is not enough to hope that a few people might show some creativity from time to time – it has to be actively encouraged and nurtured. Offered below are therefore 10 strategies or tips to help you unlock more creativity at work and help thereby drive greater innovation:
1. Ask people to think without the “rule book”. Although rules and procedures are important to mitigate risk when implementation occurs, thinking about these constraints to early can stifle creativity. As a result, encourage people meetings to think openly and without worrying about “the rules” and tell them that every idea is valid. In practice, this means avoiding statements such as “but,” “how would we” and “we can’t” as much as possible.
2. Encourage people to write their ideas down. It’s tempting to think that we can just naturally or intuitively have that big “aha” moment once in a while but in practice the best of creative ideas come from writing down all ideas in a very disciplined way. In this regard, no thought is too small, or too trivial and it may well be that reviewing these jottings from time to time help to “spark” the next big idea.
3. Use Sketching and Visualization techniques. Sketching or drawing has long been known to be a way in which individual creativity can be stimulated through a more visual medium but this approach can also be taken into the meeting room so that lots of people can be encouraged to sketch and visualize a new possible future or draw a model of an idea that others can then also see.
4. Think of a Future State and then Work backwards. Creativity and idea generation can be difficult when people are asked to “get somewhere better from here”. In other words, ideas at best tend to be very incremental when they are constrained by current methods and it is therefore often useful to imagine a future world or state in which the issue has been addressed or the problem eliminated and then work backwards in terms of what would have to be done in order to bring about that future in terms of current innovation (even if it takes a series of innovation steps).
5. Encourage fun and games to open up thinking. Creativity is rarely easy when a person is working by his or herself and when he or she is doing what is always done (sitting at a desk, following a familiar schedule, performing routine tasks etc.). By encouraging fun and games, especially in a group setting, you are helping people to “free up” their thinking and start to consider what might be done differently. And this doesn’t have to be complex. Using post it stickies, multiple colored pens and props of various kinds can make a big difference.
6. Give people time to rest and think. We all need time to relax and take both physical and mental breaks. This helps to both oxygenate the body and brain (which research finds leads to greater creativity) but perhaps more importantly creates the space and distraction we often need to come up with something new or find the “answer” to an issue we are striving hard to solve, which too much work and concentration can hide from us.
7. Allow free form thinking/brainstorming. Not only is group brainstorming used too little by leaders at all levels but when they do it is often carried out poorly. Brainstorming sessions should be free flowing idea-generating sessions, which are lightly steered by a facilitator with people building upon the suggestions of group members openly and not critiquing/evaluating each idea as it comes up. In addition, a good brainstorming session should be patient with all participants so that quieter people can contribute fully and believe that their creative thoughts are valued.
8. Get people to meet socially. The work environment tends to have a number of inhibitors to creativity largely because there are formal reporting lines, rules and regulations, fixed communication channels and a hierarchy of position (just to name a few). By getting a team of people to socialize outside work many of these constraints fall away and lead to a much more level playing field when it comes to idea generation, letting everyone contribute.
9. Allow people to use their strongest senses. A lot of the attempts to get people to be more creative are encouraged in words (spoken or written). But this emphasizes only the verbal channel when creativity may come from people’s other channels or what the author Howard Garner called “multiple intelligencies”. These include people’s strengths with their other senses, which may need encouragement to make the desired contribution. For example, we could ask what people might hear, smell or feel like in a given future state.
10. Facilitate people meeting across teams and disciplines. Despite the fact that creativity and innovation can come from within a particular team or functional group, it may be limited by the similar perspectives that the people in such a group may have. It is therefore helpful to get people to meet in multi-disciplinary teams or in “supply-chain” teams where the skill-sets and knowledge are likely to be quite different. This helps to stimulate a richer discussion and help everyone participating to see familiar issues from a new “angle”.