According to the LinkedIn 2019 business survey, the No. 1 “soft skill” business owners say they want is “creativity.” While this might be true in a survey, it becomes a little more complicated to consider and execute in the real world.
First, not every business wants or needs creativity. (Franchises are technically about the absence of creativity, in some ways. Do what this book says to the letter.)
Second, there’s a vast distance between “wanting” creativity to flow at a company versus knowing how to guide and encourage the process while protecting customers and the business from any unintended fallout.
How to Encourage Creativity
Set Parameters - The first important detail to point out about creativity is that it’s a condiment, not a meal. It is vital to be clear whereyou want a team to be creative, and within which parts of the process. If you run a bakery, there might be a “lab” part of the business where once a week (or month), you open the kitchen during non-production hours and encourage some recipe exploration. But you would clearly separate that kind of activity from the production tasks required every day.
The parameters around creativity might include the following:
- Which areas of the business are flexible for creativity
- What types of problems creative actions are meant to influence or solve
- What is off limits (putting up “guard rails” is a vital part of helping people stay creatively safe while protecting your business)
- What expenses are considered reasonable to the process
- How to operate the primary business separately from the creative process so nothing accidentally spills over
It’s strange to think of parameters as being the first part of building out a creative practice, but it’s also the part most people feel anxiety around. Eliminating potential to harm the business, the customers, or the creative process is very helpful.
Build A Healthy Creative Environment - Even if you simply want occasional brainstorming, it’s important that as a business owner, you set up simple ground rules for the creative process. Creative people have two types of mindsets when they’re coming up with ideas: one, being really innovative and free to dream, or two, being defensive and fighting off criticisms. With that in mind, here are a few tips to building a healthy creative environment:
- With parameters in place, state clearly that the process is meant to be positive, and that you’ll limit any use of negative words like no/not/can’t/won’t/never and so on. (Keep reading.)
- Adopt a “Yes, and” policy. When an idea won’t work, don’t interrupt the creative flow to say that. Instead, say “What else do you have?” or “Great. Give me three more ideas.”
- Have physical space for creativity, including whiteboards, sketchbooks, colorful markers and other materials. Give people the physical tools to explore beyond just words in their head.
- Share creativity and innovation videos from YouTube like TED talks on design or Disney Imagineer materials. Some people are secretly creative or latent innovators but simply need the right stimulus to get their plans in action.
- Help your creative people break walls. If you run a car dealership, talk about “What if we sold subscriptions to cars? What would have to change? What if we sold scooters?” And so on. Sometimes, giving people a very different perspective on the business will yield completely new ideas and directions.
As a business owner, your role is to keep the operations running, but also nurture a space for new ideas. It’s very challenging to lead people through creative processes. Your role adapts to having to learn how to guide a very fragile experience. Creativity is less hammer and nails and more like dovetailing wooden joints.
Reward Creativity (and Failure) - It’s vital that people see their ideas yield future satisfying uses. When you think an idea might be worth a try within your company, celebrate that. It would also empower your people to work more creatively if you celebrated failures. Sometimes, even though an idea fails or can’t be implemented, a key learning can be taken from the experience. Be sure to celebrate and reward both experiences.
- While people appreciate monetary rewards, be sure that praise and credit go to your creative types. Humans love to feel necessary and wanted.
- Celebrate failures because if people see there’s not a huge penalty for getting an idea wrong, they’ll be willing to share even more ideas. Innovation is almost always hiding inside a crazy idea, not a safe one.
- Be sure to keep the cycle of creativity flowing so a reward of being part of the process is that it becomes a facet of an employee’s role. Think of the retention implications of someone saying, “Yes, I install ventilation systems for this HVAC company plus I get to design better internal wiring as part of my job.” That invitation to innovation might hold someone’s interest more than the simple execution of repetitive tasks.
- Offer some kind of annual creativity-based prize. Be loud about it. Make sure there are videos and an event and lots of internal coverage of the experience. We all love hanging our foil-starred homework on the fridge.
- Consider adding a failure-based prize to the same experience, but one where you talk loudly about the positive lessons learned from such experiences.
Creativity Isn’t Operations. It’s WHY There are Operations
In any business, there are people who come up with ideas and people who implement and execute those ideas. It’s the same in most industries. To be the kind of company that has creative ideas and who gets ahead of the competition means making some shifts in how you lead and manage.
Creativity is a leadership-heavy activity, not a management-centric one. You have to learn how to collaborate, how to welcome diverse opinions, how to honor different backgrounds and methods and mindsets.
Before anything can be “the way we’ve always done it,” someone had to come up with that way. Creativity is the little green buds poking through the soil that eventually yield mighty trees. They require nurturing but what you get will be worth it for sure.
About Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advisesleadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.
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