I think most of you will agree that creativity is essential in every business. Sometimes when we think of it briefly, we associate creativity with marketing, design, architecture, and art. But further thinking about creativity leads us to conclusions that even in more administrative functions like accounting there is also room for a creative mind. Because each part of the business, at some point, comes to the decision-making process or looking for better, new ways to do things.
Not once I heard from managers that they want their people to “think out of the box” and “be more creative” in looking for better solutions and make better decisions in their projects.
While in practice so many businesses are designed to block, suppress creativity:
- 🌿 We create policies and procedures.
- 🌿 We seek automation in our processes.
- 🌿 We are highly aimed at speed, productivity and delivery time.
All of the above are important. I am not against it:
- 🌿 Policies and procedures bring us to structure in the processes that don’t need to be reinvented each time and just need to be done in a specific way. This is good when it comes to legal, payroll obligations. There are some outside rules and laws already, which we need to make sure to follow.
- 🌿 Automation can save us time and workforce in areas, which would be done without human input, while we will focus our people on creative and more meaningful work.
- 🌿 Productivity and delivery time just shows us that we work at our full capacity and we bring to the customer what is promised and on time.
What is creativity?
A creative mindset is an ability to solve a problem by creating a new combination from existing ideas, existing input; creating a new way to solve a problem.
Creativity can’t work on itself. It needs some fuel, some prerequisites to it.
I believe that Competency, Open Mind & Flexibility, and Motivation are the things that we need to be creative.
Competency is needed to give us knowledge and skills. It may seem not that obvious, but the more knowledge you have on the topic, the more input and choice you can bring to your creative ideas and decision. When you have knowledge of the different angles, you can combine it in a new way.
You might say that you noticed that probably more young professionals can be creative, while more experienced ones used to stick to their knowledge and the common ways of doing things? I agree, in practice, this happens very often. But the reason I’ve seen is usually related to those people finding their comfort zone and being afraid to ruin it for the sake of a new, creative idea. Creative ideas might be risky and not always lead us to the best result. But this is the only way to innovation and market disruption – to do things in a new, non-common way.
Open Mind & Flexibility
This what helps us not being stuck with our knowledge and competency in the old ways of doing business. For some people it’s quite difficult: they work for years to gain mastery in the area, get the authority and enough knowledge to be the expert. It sounds and feels good to be an expert!
But the world is changing. There is so much new technology, new scientific explorations, new management tools that can help us. The only thing to use new knowledge is to be flexible and open to constantly learn.
“This is how we did things is my ages and this still works” – doesn’t work. This is a sign of old-fashioned thinking. The way of thinking, which values the tradition, but doesn’t bring progress and innovation.
This one for me is a core to any activity! I believe that no great things can be created without motivation or passion.
Imagine someone, who might have a profound competency, someone who is pretty flexible and likes to learn new things, but is completely demotivated with the current job or project. I don’t believe this someone can spend the energy to “create”, to be in the “flow” and “creative mindset”.
While Competency, Open Mind, and Motivation can be considered on a personal level, there are some ways to make sure we establish an environment for creativity in the whole team.
Everything starts with the goal! Goals give us direction, motivation, and focus. But goals also can kill creativity from the very beginning.
Of course, it depends on the specific business realities and specific business functions and roles. For example, we don’t want people on the production line in pharmaceuticals to be creative in how they mix ingredients, as well as other administrative and purely operational roles, where our teams have simple instructions to do. But with most of the managerial and business roles, we would like our people to be on top of their potential, be creative, and find the best ways to achieve results.
What is important in goal setting:
- 🌿 Goals have to be related to our competency, otherwise we will struggle too much finding solutions.
- 🌿 Goals have to be challenging and ambitious to boost our motivation to achieve them and unlock our creativity to really find new ways of doing things.
- 🌿 Goals have to be formulated in the terms of achievements, not specific tasks.
When we control our teams on each way of their work, the only thing we achieve is making sure they do their specific tasks as we want it. When we want to unlock creativity, we need to give our people some independence to get in the flow, brainstorm, maybe make a few little mistakes on the way to finding the best solution.
What is important in giving independency:
- 🌿 Communicate the goal and ask your team how would they see the list of tasks to achieve it. Confirm or make adjustments, but let people think on their own how they would approach things.
- 🌿 Make regular but not too frequent mid-point catch-ups to assess which direction their work goes.
- 🌿 Explicitly communicate that you want your people to be independent in finding solutions. Ask them to come with you for advice or approval after they already considered some options or made a research on the topic.
- 🌿 Don’t advise on every step of the way. Ask questions and coach your people with challenging questions on “where they think they can find a solution and answers”, “when they feel they need help”, “what they feel they need to change to make things move faster”, etc.
Access to Resources
The creative process is not locked in our heads only. Sometimes it needs resources at hand – from specific tools to some more time than you would usually spend on the project which only needs implementation that we already know.
Resources, which might be important:
- 🌿 Time
- 🌿 Budget
- 🌿 People resource
- 🌿 Information
- 🌿 Tools
- 🌿 Environment
When you have a specific project in your company that needs a special creativity boost, form a workgroup. The workgroup will consist of people involved in finding the solution from different angles of the expertise.
Once I was involved in a Workgroup of creating a new site. In an original way, we would first work on the idea, brainstorm on the right business model, then create a strategy for the content and user experience, and only after that, we would involve our tech team to work on finding the right implementation solutions for the platform. In our case, since we wanted to create something extremely new and disruptive, we created a workgroup, which already consisted of all the potentially involved parties: product management, marketing, business development, sales, finance, software engineering, design, and production team. We only had a few key people from each of the business functions, but we brainstormed together on each step of the search for the best solution. It helped us drastically to save time on further steps and discussions, but it also was the most creative environment with so many perspectives on the project. For example, when a marketing idea gets an engineering mind to validate the approach – this is brilliant!
What is important in a workgroup:
- 🌿 Diversity of mindset and expertise
- 🌿 Environment of openness and no judgement
- 🌿 Trust to each other and support
- 🌿 Positive vibe
- 🌿 Iterations. We want to feel the track of the progress. So we split the process in smaller project steps and move accordingly.
When we think of reward, we most probably think about a bonus or other way of recognition based on the achieved result. And some probably might say that creative idea itself won’t cost a thing till we didn’t implement it?
Imagine there is a strategy session in the company and during a passionate brainstorm on finding the ways to beat competitors one of the executives comes up with a new marketing idea that may change things drastically. There will be a long long way of discussions, approvals, research, implementation, and then real go-to-market before we even know that it worked. So this person, who may be saving the company now by coming up with an idea might be long gone from the company or forgotten as someone, who made a difference. Why not rewarding or recognizing this as an achievement on this stage to show the whole team that being creative could be impactful?
What could be a good reward for creativity:
- 🌿 Feedback and verbal recognition. Sometimes even praise is a reward. Especially being praised by the higher management in front of the colleagues determines that creativity is valuable and welcome.
- 🌿 Promotion or a note for the further career path. Creativity is not the only skill that gets us on the career ladder, but there might be roles higher than our current, where a creative approach to finding solutions will be vital at a specific business or specific stage of the company.
- 🌿 Autonomy. Sometimes when we see someone on the team can come up with brilliant ideas, managers can reassure themselves that these people don’t need to be micromanaged. Maybe even more to that – they would need more autonomy and independence to truly unlock their potential.
- 🌿 Opportunity to learn. Sometimes I’ve seen very creative people, who were new to the role or still junior in their profession, who on the other hand were very creative and thinking out-of-the-box. These people had the motivation and an open mind. But when they don’t yet have the competency, this is the easiest we can give. Let them learn internally and externally, give them new projects, so they learn on practice, and coach them.
- 🌿 Organizational support. Imagine a marketer comes with an idea for a new product line. The idea seems great and potentially impactful, but it will include research from the engineering and production side and some extra planning for the P&L in the finance department. In order to reward the creative behavior, give this person access to existing company resources: schedule a meeting with finance, engineering, and production and ask them to support this marketer with their knowledge, their feedback, and research on this potential project.
Creativity is important, especially now. The tech world, business world, even our environment is changing at a high speed. We need to react fast and make a difference to stay on top of the wave!