In the work that we do with clients, we are often asked how a department or company can become more creative. And how can they, as leaders, help foster creativity?
In order to answer these questions, in 2013 we did a map on “I unleash exceptional creativity within my organization”. And, as we discovered, yes, creativity is something that can be developed in an organization, but it doesn’t just happen. The map revealed that for creativity to flourish, there are the 5 things that are necessary for leaders to ensure:
- Celebrate failure
In the same way that we celebrate success, it is important to celebrate failure as this creates a culture that is risk tolerant and knows that it is only through trial and error that great breakthroughs and innovations can occur. Companies like 3M have taken so-called ‘failures’ and turned them into world-changing innovations, such as Post-It Notes.
- Provide ‘play’ time
Creativity requires time, space and tools. While it may not be possible to give 20% of time to ‘play’ like Google, it is necessary to provide the room for people to be creative outside of their traditional roles and to experiment freely. This can be done by providing physical space and time within the company’s borders, fostering a culture that encourages people to play with ideas and be playful in general, and encouraging play activities outside of work, both for individuals and for groups of employees.
- ‘No’ is not the first response
To discourage the “idea bullies” and prevent new thinking from being shut-down, it is important to ensure that negativity is not the first reaction to an idea. Instead of “no”, encourage responses such as “yes and…” or “what if” and “why not”. And mean it.
- Encourage collaboration
Create opportunities for cross-functional and cross-departmental interaction and collaboration. By providing opportunities for people to work together who do not usually interact, new perspectives and ideas will emerge. In our work with Cadillac Fairview, we put together ideation teams that came from property management, leasing, marketing, sales and other functions. The results were far richer and more interesting than if we’d remained in silo’s.
- Acknowledge and reward creativity
As part of the formal performance appraisal process, include creativity and idea generation as one of the assessment criteria. For management, include the fostering of creativity in staff as one their performance criteria. Organizations like Netflix have embedded the rewarding of creativity into their HR practices, to great benefit.
It is by applying these principles throughout the Master Planning process that we were able to help clients like Audi, Cadillac Fairview (major real estate operator and owner of high end malls) and the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation (all of the government lotteries across Canada) tap into their creativity in order to develop innovative concepts to attract new clients, retain existing ones and build loyalty.
Like other skills such as marketing, sales and risk management, for a company today to be successful, creativity must be part of the organizational skill-set. It is by cultivating creativity that companies will be flexible, innovative and responsive to the constant changes and demands of the 21st century marketplace and consumer.
Finally, it is important to remember that if you want to unleash the creativity in your organization, it requires sustained commitment – both of energy and resources. Creativity is a strategic investment and, like other strategic investments, must be supported over time in order to fully realize its many benefits. You cannot just turn on a “creativity switch”; creativity must be planted, nurtured, supported and rewarded and, only then, will you have become a creative organization.