How to unleash creativity in your organization?
BY ERIC HOLDENER
Innovation is everyone’s job. It starts with creativity.
With the accelerating pace of social, cultural, economic and technological transformations, organizations must find ways to constantly navigate the unknown. It is crucial today to have the ability to innovate, and this requires all employees to adapt to creativity. The importance of establishing a culture of innovation is the conversation I have with my clients and it’s the center of my innovation practice.
The first thing that comes to mind when we think of creativity is the image of an artist working alone in a studio. In business, creativity remains an artform and shouldn’t be alienated to a single meaning. Being creative means finding new ways to solve problems and reframing old work habits into new ones. It means questioning the status quo and re-assessing the past, and it means being able to generate new ideas, obviously the first step to successful innovation. Creativity is therefore an essential attribute to cultivate in any workforce. The question that I usually get asked is: how do we unleash creativity in people? There is a vast trail of Management Literature on the subject, but in my experience, to nurture creativity, a company’s culture needs to be built around the following elements.
“The first thing that comes to mind when we think of creativity is the image of an artist working alone in a studio. In business, creativity remains an artform and shouldn’t be alienated to a single meaning.”
A compelling vision
First and foremost, it starts with clarity. In order for creativity to happen in the workplace, employees at every level need to know where their organization is going. Organizations need context and a sense of direction. But people also need a story, a clear and compelling story that is inspiring enough to know where to focus their creative efforts.
Creating a space for experimentation
Too often, managers invite their teams to “be creative”, but we now know that fostering creativity requires a space designed to encourage this activity and to allow for ideas to roam. There must be a place but also time to conceive change and a way to imagine new ways to establish or come up with fresh ideas.
A disciplined process that allows flexibility
However, the conditions fostering creativity differ from one person to another, especially when good ideas need to be successfully implemented. A constructed approach anchors everyone and facilitates the development of new ideas. Design Thinking, a solution-based approach to solve problems, should be taught to every employee in an organization. Unfortunately, organizations often deploy this Methodology as a “must follow” process rather than as a mindset. In our workshops, we encourage individuals to freely come in and out of this process, as creativity doesn’t always happen in group thinking, sprints or teamwork format. Creativity often happens when individuals aren’t forced to be creative. It happens when the mind wanders, whether on a walk, while running, reading something, or just doing nothing. When I train people on Design Thinking, I help participants understand how clearly integrated the path is between the Human-Centered mindset of Design Thinking (framing problems from the point of view of people) and the creative process (coming up with ideas).
Fostering a safe environment
It’s important to provide an open environment to experiment, fail, learn and try again. It should be a given but it is far from easy to implement, as it requires work from leaders and employees at every level. For leaders, building a culture of innovation and providing a safe climate for ideas to emerge involves accepting risks and failures and pushing away from the temptation to avoid them. As Ed Catmull, founder of Pixar said in his most inspiring book:
"[Leaders] must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear." — Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc.
Making technology familiar
Today, innovation is so intertwined with technology advancements that it is imperative for the whole organization and for all employees to understand the landscape of frontier technologies and how it applies to their industry and their work. Employees need to feel that they are on familiar territory. Only when they are comfortable with these new technologies, will they be able to use them as a material to creatively imagine how they can solve problems.
A continuous learning environment should be the norm for any organization who wants to build a culture of curiosity. Finding ways to regularly expose employees to the reality of the world is just as important. It entails taking them to places where the product or the service is delivered to the consumer to help them connect what they do to what the consumer is experiencing. But it also means taking teams in completely different and unfamiliar territories. Organize field trips to art museums or science labs, bread manufacturers or artisan workshops. Seeing artists, researchers, academics, architects, designers in their field allows the magic of creativity to blossom. The importance of creating displacements, breaking routines, exploring unknown places and discussing with the team their observations allows them to relate (or not) to their work and life. Don’t expect immediate outcomes from these field trips. You are planting seeds and over time, it will allow your team see problems from new perspectives and come up with creative solutions.
In the end, unleashing creativity in organizations is not an easy task. It has to be part of a culture of innovation. Implementing such a culture sometimes means transforming the organization, other times it is just an evolution, but it always requires a strategy and a roadmap. It takes patience and time.
At Kinestry, we help organizations implement a visionary strategy, whether it means navigating through the disruptions of Frontier Technologies or whether it means transforming the workplace. We are focused on designing immersive workshops to help teams develop human-centered mindsets, spark their creativity and equip them with a solid understanding of Artificial Intelligence, Digital Technologies and its application in business. These workshops in combination with on-site coaching can make creative innovation a lasting practice at your company, an experience that will create lasting value.