Creativity is the most important leadership quality for business success, according to a groundbreaking IBM study of 1,500 CEOs. Other research shows that the creative economies of many regions of the U.S. equal or exceed the size of other important economic sectors. Combine that with statistics that show that the businesses in the creative industry are emerging as one of the driving forces of economic growth, and it's not hard to see why creativity is a leadership skill that's in high demand.
But creativity isn't just crucial for those in the creative industry. It's essential in every industry as one of the key factors that help companies compete, adapt and even survive.
It's not enough, however, to hire creative employees or be creative yourself. If you don't manage creativity the right way, you could inadvertently miss opportunities for growth—and even harm your business.
For example, some employees who interact with customers in front line roles don't like working for creative managers and are more likely to leave the company than employees with non-creative managers. In other cases, consumers aren't looking for the "new and improved," and creative changes can drive away more customers than attract them. Recall what happened, for example, when Coca-Cola changed its time-tested recipe and introduced "New Coke."
So how can you avoid the pitfalls of managing creativity in your business? Here are 10 things to think about:
1. Structure Brainstorming Sessions to Maximize Participation
Brainstorming sessions work well for extroverted types who are comfortable thinking out loud. Some of your most creative members may be introverts, however, and these group sessions aren't the right forum for eliciting their ideas. To ensure everyone contributes, tell participants in advance what the topic will be. This helps introverted members think through a solution before the meeting.
2. Remember Remote Employees
Many managers believe that the best ideas happen when their group meets face to face and can debate ideas. But this can often result in ignoring employees who work in satellite locations. To avoid this, consider the many brainstorming collaboration tools that are available, and use one. For example, check out GroupMap, MindMeister, Grouputer and Stormboard.
3. Reach Beyond Silos
Creativity is no longer reserved for research and development, or the graphics department. Every function in the organization, whether it's customer service or shipping, benefits from creativity. Seek creative input from everyone in your company, not just a chosen few who are considered "creative." Today, the further you go down the organizational hierarchy, the greater the worker's knowledge. And the best ideas often surface from the bottom up.
As David B. Goldstein, author of Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive, puts it, "Those standing closest to the fire know what’s hot and are the first to notice what’s cooling."
4. Introduce Solo Storming
Mark Randall of Adobe Systems is a proponent of "solo storming"—he finds it more effective than brainstorming. Randall advises giving a problem to a small group of team members and having them each work on the problem on their own. Then create a merged list of all the proposed solutions you receive, and after you're done, gather the team together to debate each idea and come up with the best solutions.
5. Be Aware of Others' Emotions
One of the biggest impediments to generating new ideas is the fear of being wrong—this can stifle contributions from many people in your business. Increase your emotional intelligence by paying attention to others' emotions. Create a safe environment for people to risk being wrong without feeling stupid. Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson put it aptly when he said, "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original.” Give your people permission to be wrong so they're not held back by the fear of rejection and ridicule.
6. Clear Your Inner Obstacles
Anyone who manages the creative process is bound to experience some anxiety. As creativity coach Mark McGuinness observes, the anxiety gets worse the more successful you are—the higher you are on the ladder, the more you stand to lose if you make a mistake. The solution? Come to terms with this by developing the resilience to forge ahead and discounting the inner voice that might stop you from promoting your best ideas. Fear is contagious. Guard against your own fears spilling onto the team and squashing the creative enthusiasm of the group.
7. Ensure Creative Ideas Are Implemented
Just having creative ideas isn't enough. Ideas are useful only when they're implemented. More often than not, the creative types who think of innovative ideas aren't skilled at selling their ideas to others. Keep an eye on this so that good creative ideas aren't lost. If an idea is worth considering, champion it and take it to the next level.
8. Be the Last One to Speak
As the boss, if you're the first one to speak at a brainstorming session, you're likely to stifle contributions from others who might feel obliged to defer to your opinion. "If the boss gets first crack, then he's going to set the agenda and the boundaries, and your brainstorming [session] is immediately limited," says Tom Kelley in The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm. Randall of Adobe Systems even recommends keeping the boss out of brainstorming sessions altogether. Let the group come up with ideas without you present. Watch what happens.
9. Make Room for People to Be Creative
William L. McKnight, the former CEO of 3M, had this to say about creativity: "If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need." This means giving people latitude, eliminating arbitrary deadlines and not looking for immediate results. Help your creative teams produce creative ideas by giving them what they need and then get out of their way and let them do what you asked of them.
10. Know When to Leave Good Enough Alone
In the quest for creativity, it's sometimes easy to miss the signs that tell us to leave well enough alone. There are many such instances of this. Gijs van Wulfen, founder of The FORTH Innovation Method, created a list of 21 situations when you should not innovate. For instance, one of these is when your clients are even more conservative than you are. So know who your customers are and what they want—don't jeopardize what works well.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
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