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How to promote innovation and creativity within an organization

Jun 29, 2020

While automation, AI and other technologies are taking over a lot of repetitive, operational tasks, the demand for uniquely human skills, like innovativeness and creativity, is growing. In fact, research shows that 80% of people see unlocking creative potential as essential for growth.

We’ve even seen that companies with creative leads perform significantly better financially than companies lacking innovation. Why is it then that the vast majority of executives are disappointed in their organization’s level of innovation?

Creativity is key but harnessing it in the workplace is often difficult. To ensure smooth cooperation and continued business, companies are sacrificing creativity in favor of speed and predictability. While many organization’s add creativity or innovation in their list of values, in reality there are few actions taken to realize these values.

Building a creative culture

To start promoting creativity and gain a competitive edge through innovation, you should consider making your workplace more accepting towards the creative process. There are fundamental attitudes that can help you get the most out of your people and encourage them to apply themselves to problems in new, novel ways.

Let’s tackle some attitudes that need checking in the workplace before you can set up any brainstorming or consultancy sessions for your colleagues. You must first have the foundation, i.e. your company culture, right before adding any actions on top.

Give time

The enemy of creativity is lack of time. If your team is constantly strapped for time and has an endless backlog of projects to finish, they will be stuck in a tunnel of churning out tasks and not have time for new ideas. If your organization is looking to be a leader in innovation, you need to set time aside for it.

The easiest way to get started is setting some hours aside every day/week/month that are strictly reserved for new ideas and complex problems requiring solutions that have never been thought of before. Creativity is not an ability that someone is born with. Exercises like this can help create new habits and patterns that encourage thinking off the grid.

Autonomy

If your colleagues feel like their ideas aren’t respected or they are being micro-managed, there is no point in setting up exercises that get the creative juices flowing because it won’t work. Your team needs to know they have ownership of their own work and have an influence in the output of their team.

You can increase autonomy by asking questions like ‘How would you do this?’ ‘What do you think would be a good deadline?’ and ‘Which campaign do you think has the best visuals and why?’ and then going with someone else’s ideas even if their solution to something wouldn’t be your first choice. Show your team they are responsible for their decisions and give them guidance in building confidence in their work.

Encourage storytelling

Whether you work in sales, marketing, communications, branding or any other department, content is key. And not just the central message, but the way something is told. There are a lot of guidelines, processes, and methodologies that steer professionals away from creativity.

For example, marketeers know that their audience is likely to spend no more than 30 seconds on a video. Salespeople know they need to make their points concise and quick to not lose a prospect’s interest. Strictly following these kind of presumptions and industry standards will not necessarily help you stand out, especially if you sacrifice a good story because you think you can only hold your audience’s attention with specific tactics.

Give your team the freedom to try different methods and encourage them to forget the rules (at least for a while). Focus instead on the story of your ad, pitch, presentation, article, keynote speech, etc. is and lead with that.

Be consistent

Finally, one of the most common mistakes that we see in organizations is not being consistent with promoting creativity. You can implement all the creativity-boosting actions above and still fail if you neglect being consistent. Does the following scenario sound familiar to you?

Twice a year your department organizes a brainstorming day where the whole team gets together and with the help of a specialized coach or a consultant you come up with ideas to improve collaboration/processes/campaigns/visuals/you name it using nice, colorful pens and sticky notes. Participants leaves the session full of energy and feeling good about the progress you made. The next day it’s back to business as usual. After a week, all attendants feel like the session was probably from an alternate reality or a collective dream. Next time this type of an event is organized, the participants will not be excited because they know it will lead to nothing.

This happens in almost every organization in some shape or form. Be the one who breaks the pattern!

It’s actually quite simple: set up next steps and assign responsibilities immediately. If you are consistent and show your team that their efforts to think outside the box result in something, you’ll create a cycle of positive reinforcement that rewards creativity.

What’s next?

After your company culture is aligned with your values, you can expect more creativity from your existing team. Additionally, truly creative workplaces draw in professionals who personally align with the values your organization believes in. That means your new recruits will be people who are already developing their creative thinking or at least find it important, increasing your company’s chances to come up with a unique strategy, product, or selling point.

If you invest in innovation and remain consistent, the results will come. Creativity takes time, so don’t give up after a couple of months even if you haven’t invented the next big thing yet. Remember to also iterate your new strategy and collect feedback from employees. They are your greatest resource.

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