We all possess the capacity to be creative, but not all of us have the opportunity to work in conducive surroundings, with supportive colleagues and management.
Any industry or organisation where strategic planning is called for can be guilty of excluding the really good ideas that bubble up from surprising sources.
Creative work environments are commonly perceived as funky spaces with table tennis setups and every new gadget known to humanity; millennials sporting sneakers and facial hair, lots of natural light, greenery, interesting prints and of course, the expensive coffee machine. It’s a hangover from the era when ad agencies were king and budgets big, although all the way through, women were often the quiet achievers in a world teeming with egotistical guys. Unfortunately, many industries and workplaces, advertising included, believe that creativity is the province of solo-performer “rockstars”.
Companies experiencing financial or structural insecurity sometimes tamp down their creative thinkers, considering them a “luxury” and directing all hands to be scrubbing decks and shovelling coal into boilers. It’s so short-sighted. Or maybe you’ve experienced so-called “collaborative” sessions which are little more than yawn fests that leave everyone unmotivated.
Wouldn’t it be great, instead, if every day you headed to a workplace that welcomes and encourages the pursuit of ideas (within budget and ensuring that core business priorities are fulfilled)? Any time is the right time to put ideas back on the menu, allowing creativity to flourish. Here’s five essential steps.
1. Don’t exclude
How often do we see a stale annual report format, or old-fashioned intro video to a product, service or team, or a tedious process that has been in place for decades? The same team has worked together for years, producing the same thing over and over.
If this is happening where you work, maybe it’s time to throw open the hothouse and let in some fresh air. Have a competition. Reward the winners and runners-up; keep them on board. The point is to set frequent challenges, welcome ideas from everyone and see how they can be implemented.
2. Don’t allow negativity
This is one of creativity’s biggest killers. Negativity is frequently born of jealousy and frustration, of seldom being given a chance.
If you’re experiencing this in your team, help build enthusiasm for surprises by setting aside a few hours once a month (more often, if possible) where ideas are floated and tried on for size. Bring out old ideas and give them an airing. Encourage everyone to do the same.
3. Don’t wet-blanket
This happens when people think an idea can’t happen because it might fall on stony ground. This happens a lot in workplaces and discourages proponents.
Embrace initiative, one to one, and all throughout. Jointly carve out ways ideas can be deployed for the team and company’s benefit. Ask that people put aside personal differences and ideological preconceptions to give initiatives a chance. Be specific about what you will do. If people haven’t got anything productive to add to the mix, they should move aside.
4. Don’t lose momentum
This is where an idea’s merits are put to the test. It’s a great opportunity to nut out logistics, costings, pro’s and con’s, timing and so on. Make a point of following up on scattered sparks and see where ideas can be incorporated into your company plan, products, services and KPIs. Bring in those process-minded bods who always pick holes in everything and ask them to find ways to improve what’s being suggested.
5. Don’t bury gems
Too many companies and organisations bury their “gems”, mostly for reasons outlined above. A contractor friend, sprouting ideas for improving a company’s project management, was shown a drawer full of similar approaches, all shelved and forgotten. Their progenitors had long since left the building, no doubt chewing their nails off with frustration.
Be a workplace/team that rewards innovation. Shout it from LinkedIn. Feature these approaches on your company website, making it clear where the ideas came from. This makes you an employer of choice.
We can adopt the above approaches in our own lives, and infuse each day with inspiration in myriad small ways. Be open, listen, look, question and answer. Repeat and reapply. See the benefits of adversity, because that’s often where you’ll experience a breakthrough.
This is an edited version of a piece that first appeared on SmartCompany.