Foster creativity in your organization

All company value originates with unique ideas, dreams, innovation or research and development.

All businesses grew out of an idea, conversation or desire to improve existing services. Throughout the life of a business, changes in the company are also the product of ideas or dreams.

The business may have entered a new market, created a new product, applied a new strategy, hired new employees or employed new technologies. At the heart of all business value is the initial idea or dream.

What is the significance to us? For your business to increase its value, it must harness creativity and innovation in a way that permits the creation of new ideas to be a regular process.

Two major forms of innovation occur: strategic and tactical. Both can be planned or spontaneous.  Continuous improvement efforts typically result in important gains. But they’re rarely the type of innovations that will change the business.

How to support creativity and innovation

What’s the best way to foster creativity, innovation or continuous improvement in a business? The organization must support the creative efforts of its employees at all levels. One of the best ways is to establish an organizational value that supports creativity and is supported by top management.

Other successful techniques to increase innovation:

  • Turn creativity into a game. Add typical elements of game playing to the creativity process.
  • Support anyone who questions current practices.
  • When new ideas fail, recognize and accept failure as an ongoing process toward improvement. One approach I use when something goes wrong incorporates these five questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What was the effect of the incident? What did we learn? What will we do differently?
  • The business environment must stimulate creativity. I’m a TEC chair and lead peer groups of CEOs. Sometimes, the meeting table will have small handheld objects such as balls, stress relievers or toys for members to handle during the discussions. It combines a tactile experience with the discussion at hand.
  • Make sure there are ideas from different areas of the organization. Consider involving other stakeholders who can produce unique insights.
  • Consider buying software to help with brainstorming. Mindmapping software visualizes graphical relationships between ideas and concepts.
  • Respect different types of intelligence. Howard Gardner of Harvard is credited with identifying eight types of intelligence. They are musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. If a company wants the widest diversity in the formation of ideas and innovations, it should involve employees who have a variety of intelligences.
  • In some cases, it might be more productive to restrict the scope of innovation or creative thinking. If there are too many “blue sky” concepts, overall productivity might suffer. However, keep in mind that restricting the creative process can also result in missing breakthrough ideas.
  • When employees create an innovation or new approach that benefits the company, reward those responsible for it. This will motivate people to find more ways to help.

Make creativity part of the job

Consider adding the creation of new ideas to individual job descriptions. Then manage and measure the ideas generated.

Be aware of practices that kill innovation. When top management thinks brainstorming is a futile exercise, new ideas won’t surface.

Policy and procedures can also impede new ideas. For example, businesses rely on compliance and controls. It may be difficult for someone steeped in controls to understand alternative processes that generate the same assurances with less effort. There could also be an inappropriate short-term focus on profitability, so creative tasks and meetings that don’t have specific outcomes may be viewed as wasted efforts. An organization that punishes failure will create a culture that reduces risk and as a byproduct, will reduce new ideas or concepts.

Another concern is “do not upset the apple cart.” This can occur when current operations are going fine and there’s no point in looking at new ventures.

If your business is to grow and flourish in the long run, you must support people who suggest ideas that will innovate.

-Jim Lindell is a CPA, a chartered global management accountant and a certified speaking professional. He is president of Dousman-based Thorsten Consulting Group, Inc., which provides strategic and financial consulting, professional speaking, training and executive coaching. He has worked with a variety of industries and chairs two groups for TEC Wisconsin.

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Jim Lindell, CPA, CGMA, CSP is a Vistage Chair in southeast Wisconsin and president of Thorsten Consulting Group, Inc. He is an award-winning speaker and best-selling author.

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