That creativity is one of the most important prerequisites to keep the engine of your organization running, will not surprise you anymore. Many renowned studies underscore this adamantly. When you as a manager or entrepreneur think future-oriented, then you most likely have already undertaken at least some random initiatives to boost that creativity. Wonderful! But how do you take the next step? How do you make sure it’s not just incidental? How are you going to embed creativity in your organization, from top to bottom, so it becomes an attitude with which every employee is infused naturally?
Unfortunately, there is no magic spell. On the contrary, the way to the creative nirvana is a long and challenging journey that requires vision, conviction and perseverance. In this article I will try to give you an overview of the five most important building blocks that make up the foundation of a creative organization.
1. Bestow trust and trust yourself
Most people don’t see themselves as very creative and will start acting accordingly. The feeling ‘my idea or solution will not be good enough anyway’ ends up in a lack of creative self-confidence altogether. Fed by the educational system that is based primarily on the reproduction of knowledge, this feeling takes root in early childhood. And sadly, in reality creativity – or any show thereof – is seldom part of the evaluation criteria for employees in a professional environment.
So clearly, a blade that cuts both ways: on the one hand employees have to have the courage to show their creativity and on the other hand they have to be able to utilize it. So for the manager that means working on more than one front at the same time.
On the level of the individual employee
See to it that they find or regain their self-confidence. A simple creativity training can already work miracles, but do engage your employees in a creative challenge afterwards. It doesn’t immediately have to be a big innovation project, looking creatively for small improvements in the day to day operational activities won’t miss its effect either. Creativity is contagious and experience teaches us that employees who initially are most resistant to it often become its biggest ambassadors.
At the team level
Here it is primarily a matter of offering psychological safety. Team members must feel that taking risks – and therefor also failing – is okay and won’t be punished. As a manager you look for a balance between giving room, enhancing group cohesion, showing respect and dignity, and finally also being open and approachable for all team members.
At organization/management level
Here also it is of crucial importance to show that making mistakes is not being punished and that trying something new is encouraged. Learn to give constructive feedback and don’t fall into the trap of going to look for and blame the ‘guilty party’ every time something goes wrong. Reward your employees for their candor and honesty when they admit to a mistake and don’t be afraid to talk about your own failures.
2. Be open to all things new
Fear of new things and therefor sticking to traditions and nitty-gritty rules – even if they are hopelessly obsolete – is maybe one of the biggest enemies of creativity. For a lot of managers, it’s not easy to let go of the tight reins for a minute, ease up on the controls, and look at all things new with an open mind. And yet it is badly needed. It is a tremendous contradiction: we proclaim fervently how important we think creativity is, but when it comes down to it, we are actually scared of it. It makes us uneasy and insecure.
That candor doesn’t only apply to management level, however. Also individual employees and teams should be able to leave their comfort zone easily when looking for solutions or by developing new products, services, procedures, etc. Daring to look across the divide to find inspiration in other sectors and cultures is a strong recommendation in that regard. In short, leave the beaten track, discard preconceptions, and especially never fear jumping into the cold water together.
3. Determine your goals and stay on track
The first prerequisite to get people behind your change - and innovation project, is creating a solid mission and vision. Where do you want to take the organization? What are the goals and which core values don’t you want to lose sight of in the process? And definitely don’t let this be a top-down story. Involve your people in this, on the organizational - as well as on the team level. But also on the individual level you can have your employees think about their personal business model and what this means in the context of the organization or team they are a part of. Creating support is what it’s all about.
Make those goals tangible and see to it that all employees are infused with it. And be sure to raise the bar high enough. Goals that are too vague and too low don’t inspire people to exploit their creative potential to the fullest. Demand quality and dare to ask for accountability when commitments aren’t honored.
And lastly, be consistent, and be accountable yourself in explaining why you take certain decisions. See to it that they always fall in with the bigger picture of the goals.
4. Offer Support Throughout Process
Sometimes it is said: ‘Ideas enough, but nothing ever happens with them.’ Of course that is a pity. Creativity is a process that doesn’t end with generating ideas. Ideas should land and lead to real change or innovation. If not, the initial enthusiasm will turn into apathy and negativism quickly. Give employees a chance to realize their ideas as well. Give them an infrastructure that allows for it and see to professional support of the creative process.
Support also means that you as an organization will have to create a climate that breathes creativity. Often it is underestimated that the space in which people work significantly influences the creative potential of employees. A smart office environment takes away barriers and enhances communication.
But also mental and operational support are very important, of course. Teach people to work autonomously, offer budget and logistical support, reward initiative on the individual and team level, stimulate knowledge, allow time for creativity, and most of all, lead by example. In short, a considerable spectrum of points for action with which you can proceed concretely.
5. Communicate clearly and often
Good internal communication is the oil that keeps the engine of an organization running smoothly. And also embodies a bit the mortar between the four building blocks mentioned before. Work on the communication with your employees on every level and in every phase of the creative process. And see to it that it also never ceases between employees.
Sharply communicating the goals, and what they mean on the personal and team level, is maybe the first prerequisite. By way of story telling you create a series of stories that inspire and motivate people. And let those stories flourish within the organization. Give your employees the chance to come up with stories themselves as well, train them to pitch ideas, and stimulate the sharing of knowledge in both formal and informal ways.
Within teams that work on change – and innovation processes, communication often is the determining factor for success. Interpersonal conflicts, for example, are deadly, but task oriented conflicts on the other hand enhance creativity. A fragile balancing act that you as a group leader will have to master.
Communication is also very important when giving feedback. Why is an idea good or not so good, and how to communicate this in such a way your employees stay motivated? On the other hand, also the interpretation and relaying of that feedback is important. In short, a transparent, respectful but clear way of communicating is crucial.
Lots of organizations nowadays are talking incessantly about creativity. But it still takes a lot to put your money where your mouth is and that appears not always to be an easy job for many organizations. With these five building blocks we want to give you an insight into the work that needs to be done. It is a fascinating journey with a lot of ups and downs along the way, but one that will have a more than rewarding destination.