By: Martin Birt
Creative thinking is the foundation underpinning all business innovation. And without constant and consistent innovation, your competitors will leave you behind. Here are nine things you can do to help your business become more creatively productive.
- Re-frame what it means to be “creative”
A few years ago I was working for a petrochemical company that needed to identify significant cost savings. To do this, we undertook a series of creative-thinking workshops involving the engineers at the company’s refineries. Our first challenge was to overcome the engineers’ definition of “creativity.” Many of them seemed to feel that they were not creative thinkers if they couldn’t write a poem, compose music or paint a picture. Their self-imposed definition of creativity was closing doors.
In business, creativity means seeing work in new ways, making new connections and generating ideas. These are possible in any business or occupation. Help your people make this connection.
- Leverage teamwork
Creativity in business is rarely, if ever, a solitary process. Ideas that may be generated by an individual will eventually require input and buy-in from others. Assess the collaboration skills of your team and, if necessary, improve those skills before launching creative problem-solving initiatives.
- Take advantage of diversity
People are different. Thinking and communication skills and preferences will vary among the individuals on your team. Knocking your head against long-established preferences can lead to entrenched resistance. You need to understand differences and account for them during the creative thinking process. Take advantage of the roles that your people may be comfortable with.
- Honour “the box”
How often have you heard that creative thinking means thinking “outside the box”? Sometimes a “box” exists for very good reasons. With airlines, for instance, flight safety regulations are non-negotiable.
Don’t ask your employees to push the limits of “box” essentials like safety. Help them see the potential for creative thinking that exists within the given limits for your industry.
- Pick the right space
If your team meets frequently in one boardroom, they might associate that space with the kind of thinking and interactions that routinely occur there.
For meetings focused on creative thinking, look for a space that is a little more informal. The space should also allow for some moving around. For many people, static physical positions can lead to static thinking.
- Fill the top of the “idea funnel” first
Let your people brainstorm and get ideas out on the table. At the start of the creative process let your team be an idea generator. Capture every idea that appears—even the “crazy” ones (perhaps especially the crazy ones). If you dismiss a crazy idea out of hand you are in danger of losing the person who generated the idea.
Many of us are effective critics, especially of our own work. Analysis and criticism introduced too early can limit thinking and potentially lead to lost opportunities.
- Consider using a meeting facilitator
A facilitator’s overall responsibility is the quality of the meeting process. A good facilitator can help keep a meeting focused, on track and on time. She or he will also help insure that people get appropriate air-time. You might also ask the facilitator to take charge of record keeping. As the meeting leader, you may want to be an active participant. A facilitator will let you fill that role.
- Make lists, assign responsibilities and provide resources
Creative thinking must also be disciplined thinking. You’re not just throwing ideas out into the universe and hoping that profit magically appears. To be effective, you must engage in a two-step process: idea generation first, then production.
Document the “really interesting” ideas and assign follow-up responsibilities. You must be committed to providing those responsible with the time and resources they’ll need for at least initial due diligence and planning.
Creative thinking is the foundation for innovation and innovation is essential to the success of your business. Be disciplined and follow-up with those assigned the “really interesting” ideas. Schedule and hold follow-up meetings. Bring the whole team together to see progress being made. Success is a great motivator and your team will learn to welcome more opportunities to be creative.