Here are a few statements I find myself saying quite often:
- In your organization, anyone can be creative.
- Creativity is not just for “creative” professions
- Innovation can come from anywhere in your organization — not only from R&D
- Innovation should run in the organization’s bloodstream.
I 100% believe in each of these statements. Still, I must admit that many organizations mistakenly interpret them as a call for printing some motivational posters and refreshing the company’s “core values.” Like the case is with many other “core values,” statements, posters, and oral messages never do a real and significant change. If you wish your organization to be more innovative, you have to work at the organizational mindset and culture level. You need to make innovation more than just a buzzword. You need to turn it into a (acronym warning) FACT!
To be a truly innovative organization, everyone in the organization must know they are allowed to fail. Failure is part of the game in any ongoing innovation effort. Of course, we aim for some successes. Otherwise, why bother. But if we don’t truly embrace failure as part of the process, we will never be able to innovate. Innovation cannot be done when you always play it safe.
Your team must know in advance that they can fail, and that would be perfectly fine. It might even be an incredible opportunity. Otherwise, there’s no sense in taking any risk. Sending this message is not trivial, but you should use any opportunity to show in practice how celebrating failure looks like. And this is not an accidental choice of words. Avoiding negative consequences when someone fails is essential. But celebrating the daring — taking the risk with a new idea or approach — is what people will remember and take note of.
It may sound like another side of accepting failure, but showing appreciation really stands by itself. If you wish your organization to be innovative, people must know Creativity and innovation are appreciated. Sounds trivial? Think about it: when given a choice, will managers in your organization appreciate their staff doing “more of the same” or daring and taking risks? It’s not just a matter of accepting the possible failure. Will your organization appreciate a non-trivial bold choice even when it succeeds?
If you are going to play the innovation game, you must be convinced it is essential for your company’s future. And if this is the case, your appreciation of anyone joining the ride must be unconditional.
Does that mean that everyone in your company should be daring all the time? Does that mean no one can do things the same way they did last week or last year? Absolutely not. No organization can take risks 24/7 while avoiding the repetition of proven methods and practices. The point is that when someone in your team feels that taking a new approach is essential, they would know they will be appreciated for that. Nothing can replace common sense and good judgment. What we aim for is avoiding mental push-backs when innovative action is required.
The next one is even more challenging. Not everyone in your company should be innovative 365 days a year. Chances are most of the tasks people are dealing with don’t call for creative problem-solving or imaginative solutions. But when someone eventually faces a real challenge, they must have confidence in their creative skills — they must know they are creative and can withstand the challenge and turn it into an opportunity.
Many (maybe most) people believe they are not creative. Most people are not aware of their ability to come up with non-trivial solutions to problems they face. And when your team does not believe they can do it, no appreciation or embracing failure will do the trick.
The good news is that if you create opportunities for people to experience their Creativity, there’s a good chance they will get the message and start acknowledging their abilities. The best way to do that is in a way that is fun and natural (as opposed to a real crisis that the team must overcome). Imagine starting each day with a fun, creative challenge you shared with the team. Don’t turn it into a competition, and don’t use challenges in which you have to find “the right answer.”
Take, for example, The Billboard seempli Play:
- Find a central location (physical or virtual) to share the creative challenge and stream of Insights
- Post a random Seed and an Insight Type every day
- The team share their Insights throughout the day in a collective creative stream
More details on seempli.com (requires a paid subscription)
It may look strange at first, but when this playful activity becomes a habit, people are bound to realize they can come up with some surprisingly creative results. The acknowledgment that “I am a creative person” is the confidence we are looking for.
When your team eventually faces a real-world challenge, they will already know they have what it takes to look at it differently and turn it into an opportunity. Will that make the problem trivial? Not really. But instead of seeing it as a threat, they will experience it as a game. And this playful mindset, together with their confidence, might just be what it takes to overcome the challenge.
[Providing the Right] Tools
Finally, if you want to innovate regularly, you need some tools. I’m not talking about fancy tools at the enterprise level, although they are sometimes required and can positively impact results. Let’s focus on more essential tools. For example, what tools do you provide your team to develop and improve their creative skills? Creativity is the fuel of innovation. Expecting the latter without investing in the first does not make sense.
Another area where tools might be required relates to the way ideas are captured, discussed, and analyzed. Do you have a well-defined method to manage the pool of ideas you expect your team to deliver?
Having the right tools may sound like a second priority aspect to address. But if you expect people to deliver something, they will soon ask how they are supposed to do that. Being ready with a minimal yet effective set of tools to start with can make a huge difference. And they don’t have to be fancy tools. Any platform that supports the semi-structured sharing of ideas and managing them would do great. Failing to provide such a platform for managing ideas and creative insights might send a double message to your team: be innovative, but we don’t really know what to do with your great insights.
If you want innovation to become a fact in your organization, you need to start with the FACT: Accepting Failure, Showing Appreciation, Cultivating Confidence, and Providing the Right Tools. Will doing that make your entire team innovative 24/7? Absolutely not. However, it will set the ground for Creativity and innovation to flourish.
These are the fertilizers that enable growth. There will be many more challenges and hurdles along the way. But setting a good starting point is essential to growing the innovative power of your team.