Ignite Creativity That Feeds Innovation
Innovation is mission-critical in today's workplace. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, organizations must be innovating in order to stay afloat. Without it, the future seems much bleaker. As I often hear when I’m around young Generation Zers, “the struggle is real.”
RELATED READING: Understanding Why Innovation Is so Difficult - Part I
Saying organizations need to innovate is one thing. The question many have to answer is whether or not they have the right culture and the right people to support that innovation. Believe it or not, every company has both at their disposal.
The Fuel of Innovation
Around the beginning of 2020, well before the wildfire-like spread of the coronavirus/COVID-19, LinkedIn Learning released its list of the top 5 most in-demand soft skills. Not much had changed from 2019, including the soft skill at the top of the list: creativity. The rest of the list is as follows:
- Emotional Intelligence
In regards to creativity, authors for LinkedIn Learning said:
“Connecting dots—that are seemingly unrelated—to generate original, useful solutions is an incredibly valuable skill in every employee, regardless of what industry or country you’re doing business in.”
While that is true, companies can’t simply focus on hiring creative people. In many ways, this type of strategy can cause a company to stagnate and even kill innovation. At the same time, companies must find ways of igniting creativity in as many employees as possible.
That doesn’t make creativity a game changer right off the bat. It becomes a differentiator when creativity becomes the standard throughout the company.
To do that, organizations must have leaders that develop and consistently support a culture of creativity and innovation and that culture permeates every employee and sector of the company.
Tactics to Inspire Creativity
The business world, due to the coronavirus pandemic, is experiencing a disruption unlike any other. Changes are many and they are more complex than ever before. As a result, leaders are no longer in a position to simply continue working as before or using former strategies to solve problems… when in fact… they must abandon what’s not working and create new ways of moving forward.
As I mentioned before, stagnation can become quite the problem for employees or teams trying to embrace creativity and spur innovation.
According to Rebecca Shambaugh, president of SHAMBAUGH–a global leadership organization–innovation is “driven neither by processes nor systems; it’s generated by human talent.” The ability for employees to create can “take companies to new frontiers” and “boosting an organization’s bottom-line performance.”
Shambaugh says to help avoid stagnation, consider bending or breaking the rules. In some instances, internal rules or procedures can hinder innovation. If that is the case changing or removing those limitations can create a space for further innovation.
Allow for Experimentation
Having said that, it's also important to facilitate an environment where employees can tap into their full creative abilities and to be empowered to practice this regularly in the work environment. The data shows this has a positive impact on the business.
According to Adobe’s State of Create global benchmark study, 80% of people say unlocking creative potential is the key to economic growth.
Leaders must encourage employees to throw out every idea possible. They should also support and encourage healthy debate around shared ideas. Doing so can create opportunities for employees to take acceptable risks and create new innovations from shared ideas.
This also creates an opportunity to combine disciplines. In fact, it’s critical for creativity. Don't group people into skillsets so rigidly. Allow for some interdisciplinary mingling.
This is what I refer to as complement/supplement. Basically, employees with weaknesses in particular skills can be supplemented by those who are particularly strong in those skillsets and vice versa. Similarly, employees who are equally skilled can often complement one another and thus find opportunities for innovation to bloom.
The Kaizen Approach
Chris Griffiths, the CEO of OpenGenius and co-author of The Creative Thinking Handbook, says companies looking to develop creativity among employees which leads to innovation should consider practicing kaizen. Kaizen is the act of continual improvement. In fact, Griffiths says it is essential.
The Kaizen mindset is about constantly challenging the status quo and questioning why and how things are done. This can be especially hard for leaders, as employees are generally less likely to give them their honest opinion if the truth is unpalatable.
Combat this by reframing your questions. Don’t ask: “What do you think of this idea?” Instead, try: “What’s wrong with this idea?” This should encourage people to say what they really think.
The recommendations I’ve discussed are just that: recommendations. They are not “complete answers” to the overall practice of inspiring creativity in your employees and thus igniting innovation. They can, however, put your team on the right path.
Remember, each organization is different and as a result, so is the brand of creativity it creates and the innovation which is inspired. Be open to the form each takes and embrace both. In the long-run, your organization will be ahead of the competition and will maintain a growing, successful business.