CREATIVITY, INVESTING IN IDEAS
Our phones (landline or cell phone) are constantly ringing, our voice mail lights are flashing and we’re ignoring our overcrowded e-mail inboxes to work on the presentation that needs to be ready in 10 minutes. What happens when we are connected 24/7, voice mail, e-mail, cell phones, blackberries? Isn’t it causing stress? How much time is left for musing, ideas and pondering? What happens to your creativity? There’s that word again.
Last month in Davos, Switzerland at the 2006 World Economic Forum, creativity and innovation was something that world leaders discussed as a future needed skill in all countries. In fact, the conference had 22 sessions under the theme of innovation and creativity. Some of them included: “Building a Culture of Innovation,” “What Creativity Can Do For You,” and “Making Innovation Real.” Many executives and government officials from the United States participated. While that may be the big picture, there are things that we can do in our own organizations now to change. Do you know that people actually want to be more creative on the job? A recent study by Sales and Marketing Management showed that 95% of the workers wanted to be more creative at work.
So what’s causing the problems? Too often it’s our work cultures and the structured environment with all the rules and regulations. If you want to increase creativity and innovation, you need to change the work culture. If you want to create a great organization, you need to find ways to increase employee creativity. You need to get people excited about creativity and then provide them with the nourishment that helps creativity and innovation flourish in your organization. Here are 25 ways to foster innovation from IDEA Champions:
- Declare your expectation that innovation is a vital part of the job.
- Invite everyone to take responsibility for co-creating a culture of innovation.
- Give people stretch goals they care about (or ask them to invent their own).
- Ask your staff what they need from you in order to think out of the box.
- Ask your team to propose seven ways to make the work environment more conducive to breakthrough thinking.
- Conduct 15 minute brainstorming sessions first thing every morning.
- Challenge everyone’s limiting assumptions. Continually ask “what if?”
- Start celebrating innovation successes.
- Eliminate as much bureaucracy as possible. Simplify procedures.
- Allow people 10% of their work time to develop new ideas.
- Create an innovation slush fund to invest in breakthrough ideas.
- Spend at least 60 minutes each day being an innovation coach.
- Gather innovation best practices and discuss ways to adapt them in-house.
- Conduct post-mortems on all ideas that “fail.” Learn from mistakes.
- Look for ways to brainstorm with other teams at the interfaces.
- Start a department-wide idea bank.
- Create a public bulletin board where new ideas can be communicated.
- Be relentless in your commitment to give feedback on new ideas.
- Send your staff off-site to a creative thinking training (or bring it in house).
- Ask customers to submit their ideas for how you can serve them better.
- Match your staff with projects that really fascinate them.
- Be personally involved in at least one breakthrough project.
- Begin a series of quarterly Innovation Recognition events.
- Modify your intranet to spark more brainstorming and collaboration.
- Find simple ways to “keep score” (measure progress).
These are suggestions seem simple enough. Try out a few, and maybe you’ll see that spark of creativity ignite in your own organization.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU’VE GOT A GOOD IDEA
You don’t, and neither does anyone else. Investing your time and energy to turn an idea into a reality is always a risky business. There’s no way to innovate and avoid all risk, but you can take steps to reduce the risk and stack the cards in your favor.
Take a break…After you’ve had that flash of brilliance, set it aside for a few days. This reduces your emotional attachment to the idea. When you take it up again, you’ll be able to evaluate the idea more clearly.
Ask for feedback…Seek out objective people and ask for their feedback on your idea. Friends and relatives are usually too biased to be of much help, but a colleague or expert may fill the bill. Keep in mind, though, that experts make mistakes too. If one expert tells you “it can’t be done,” seek out another. Maybe it can’t be done, but maybe the first expert just wasn’t open to a new idea.
Know how to judge your ideas…Establish a set of criteria for judging your ideas. Here are some useful questions you can use to evaluate an idea:
- Will it work or give the results you want? Most ideas won’t pass this first crucial test, but that’s no reason to give up. Remember it took Thomas Edison 6,000 tries before developing working filament for the electric light. If your idea doesn’t work, keep working on it.
- Is it better than what already exists? If your idea isn’t any better than the status quo, there’s no incentive to change.
- Is it people friendly? If people have to alter their behavior too drastically to use it, your idea has less of a chance of being successful.
- Is the timing right? There’s no such thing as the right idea at the wrong time. In judging the timing of an idea, start with the present. Would it be practical right now? How long will it take to implement it? Are there any trends developing that would make your idea more or less valuable?
- Is it worth it? Many new ideas are very simple. If your idea scores high on each of the other criteria, it’s probably worth pursuing.
Creativity is the process leading to ideas, while risk-taking
is the process of turning ideas into results.
Charles W. Prather
Time Online, “The Hidden Secrets of the Creative Mind,” Francine Russo, January 8, 2006 (www. time. com).
Strategy & Innovation, “Who’s Driving Your Innovation,” Eric Mankin, Pages 1-11, November-December 2005, (www. strategyandinnovation. com).
Fast Company, “Fast Talk, Creative to The Core,” Michael A. Prospero, Pages 25-32, December 2005 (www. fastcompany. com).
HR Magazine, “Irrational Secrets to Innovation,” Charles Fleetham, Pages 96-100, December 2005 (www. shrm. org).
Executive Excellence, “Creative Leadership,” Max DePree, Page 20, October 2005 (www. LeaderExcel. com).
The Ten Faces of Innovation, Tom Kelly, Doubleday Publishing, New York, NY 2005.
In the next 20 years, the commerce of ideas is going to become
more important than the commerce of things.
Professor Van Houweling
Take the Creativity Pledge!
It's the second month of the New Year and why not begin with a new creativity pledge. It is a little pledge and is quite easy for you to remember and think about daily.
- I will challenge myself to be creative everyday.
- I will challenge others to be creative everyday.
- I will challenge naysayers to think creatively everyday.
- I will challenge my organization to embrace creativity everyday.
- I will challenge myself to be creative everyday.
As you can see, this pledge begins and ends with your individual commitment and your personal responsibility to be creative. This is the only way it can be. If you can be creative in ways big or small, the cumulative effect of your efforts over time will produce an irresistible force that will wear down the immovable objects of deep-seated intransigence and risk aversion.
It's time for you to get started on what's next. Will you take the creativity pledge?
Innovation…the art of doing something different and creating something new…requires the freedom to imagine, to play with ideas, to take risks, to question assumptions. Yet the ability to see the unexpected goes against the way that the mind usually works. Consultant Daniel D. Elash explains, “The human brain is set up to see what it expects to see. It is wired to ignore things that it perceives as irrelevant. Under crisis conditions attention narrows based upon old assumptions and crucial data can be overlooked or ignored. ” To escape the tyranny of the brain’s (or organizations) fixed wires, you need to force yourself to continually be asking provocative questions about possible future threats or opportunities. Elash suggests starting with questions such as: “What happens if a rival introduces a discontinuous change in our market? How would we configure our business if we were starting fresh today? Where is our market trending and how can we be prepared for where it is going before it gets there?” His larger point is that innovation isn’t about fixed ideas but about the value of building the organization’s imagination. Ideas are good, but thinking is better.
Going With The Flow
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” says that without “flow,” the condition of heightened focus, productivity and happiness that occurs when we’re doing something we really love…there is no creativity. Csikszentmihalyi notes that in today’s innovation-centric works, creativity is a requirement for maintaining competitive advantage. And although flow, as a state of mind, can’t be engineered, there are things that companies can do to encourage the kind of work experience that results in a flow-motivated workforce. First, workers must have clear goals and a reasonable expectation of completing the task at hand. People must also be allowed to concentrate on their work, receive regular feedback on their progress, and actually possess the skills to complete the job. Taking these recommendations to heart, Ericsson instituted a flow-inspired management system that required drawing up individual “performance contracts” with each worker, and then meeting with every worker six times a year in one-on-one sessions to assess progress. The system proved so successful in motivating performance that the company is now exporting it to all of its offices around the world.
Best Practices, The Enemy of Innovation
Today leaders just love best practices; probably because they seem easier, safer and less time consuming than original thinking. In truth, however, best practices are nothing but fading copies of once great ideas, pale imitations of past originality. My advice to you: look around your organization and try to identify the so-called best practices in use. Once you’ve done that, make every effort to eradicate those eroding approaches by developing new, creative solutions that seriously consider the changing unmet or unseen needs of your customers. The battle against best practices can be a wellspring of innovation if you’re willing to fight it.
The Daily Innovator
September 28, 2005
Some thoughts from a few Dreamers…….
It's always interesting to read your ideas in Creativity Fringes and suggestions for changes in the Forest Service. While you point out pressing problems when it comes to the lack of creativity in the Forest Service, I think that we have the tools and knowledge to overcome these problems. I think the Forest Service is an amazing organization. Yet, our most important asset, our people, is too often overlooked. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and ideas with us.
If you are interested in learning more about creativity or wish to share any experiences, please contact Karl Mettke at kmettke@fs. fed. us.
Back issues of Creativity Fringes are posted at the Federal Consulting Group (http://www. fcg. gov/creativity_fringes. shtml). (Historical)
Thank You For Taking Time To Be Creative…. .