Business Success: Fostering Creativity

Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before. When this information self-organizes, innovations occur, the progeny of information-rich, ambiguous environments.

—Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science
Creativity cannot be forced. It can only be allowed. However, much can be done to increase the flow of creativity.

Actions for Stimulating Creativitycreativity

While most leaders are highly creative, many of the best ideas bubble up through the rank and file. They are the ones closest to the processes or customers where innovation has the biggest impact. Everyone loves to share ideas. So innovation is a resource that is easy to tap. One can take several actions to encourage ideas.

Offer Incentives

Most people love to share their ideas, but some may be fearful of criticism or rejection. So it is best to set rules that no idea will be judged negatively. However, the best ideas, especially those that translate into profits, should be rewarded. An organizational-level program that offers incentives and rewards for good ideas goes a long way toward fostering creativity.

Ask Inspiring Questions

Continually questioning every process is a great way to generate new ideas. Asking “what if” and questions based on curiosity can stimulate thinking. And inspiring individuals to dream or create their own department, process, or even company is a great way to get the juices flowing. Also, challenging a group to solve an impossible problem can lead to amazing breakthroughs.

Create Time and Space to Think

Most people feel so much pressure that just having time to think is a luxury. But this is exactly what is needed to nurture creativity. Some companies are creating relaxing spaces just for daydreaming. Others are allocating time and telling their workers to go for a walk in the woods or visit an art gallery to get out of their thinking rut. A change of scenery is one of the best ways to tap into the right side of the brain.

Design a Creative Workspace

There is so much that can be done to enhance the simplest workspace. Artwork and plants give a cubicle or office a more organic feel. Soft, inspiring music enhances brain function. A view of the outdoors is an ever-changing landscape of color and light.

Enhance Diversity

Creativity can be stimulated by bringing together people of different talents, backgrounds, cultures, and viewpoints. The more varied the experience of the participants, the more each person’s own ideas will be enhanced.

Encourage Mistakes

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. 
—James Joyce

Organizations that encourage individuals to make decisions at their own level will most likely see an increase in errors. This is natural because it is expected that the organization is changing and evolving at a much faster rate. So while there may be a concern about the increase, more mistakes may mean that more new ideas are reaching the experimentation stage. A common theme is “managers must decrease the fear of failure and that the goal should be to experiment constantly, fail early and often, and learn as much as possible in the process.”

Free-form Conferences

In 1985, the organizers of the International Symposium on Organizational Transformation noticed that the best part of the conference was during the coffee break. It turned out that this time of mingling and freestyle interaction also was the part the participants liked the most. So the organizers decided to design the entire conference as a coffee break. In other words, they decided to use open space methodology to design the entire program. “The result is a conference with no agenda, no organizing committee and, surprisingly, almost no stress.”

In the book Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, Harrison Owen offers ideas for running all types of programs with minimal structure. He suggests that gathering in an open space that is outside of the day-to-day experience allows ideas to emerge. “If the aim is creativity and innovation, knocking out the stultifying drudgery is step one. Step two is removing expectations, developing trust and getting back to a sense of play, according to Professor Lizbeth Goodman, director of the SMARTlab Digital Media Institute at the University of East London. She uses theater games and voice work: shouting, singing, and laughing. “People remember some previous version of themselves that hadn’t yet been taught to think in boxes. When you free up someone’s body movement, you free up their mind.”

One company builds a conference by bringing in top experts in their field. The attendees hear each expert in a morning plenary session. Then small teams book time with the experts for a few days. “It’s this combination of structure and absolute freedom to brainstorm, along with up-close access to successful mentors, that feeds the ‘anything is possible’ atmosphere.”

Although the format has been used primarily in the media arts industry, the model works for all types of companies. One event brought together “top-level professionals from across the biopharmaceutical, FMCG [Fast Moving Consumer Goods], petrochemical and chemical industries.” The invitation-only event allowed the participants to design “their own agenda of interactive-workshops, personal meetings, networking sessions and keynote presentations.”

Several companies offer these conferences in different formats, but the overarching concept is simple: Reduce the structure and let the ideas flow.

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