Here are some major strategies creative businesses use to foster creativity & innovation at work worth considering for your business.
• IDEA IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMS •
Some businesses, to convert ideas into profitable innovations, sponsor major idea improvement programs.
Idea-improvement needs special effort in most companies. People with ideas may not have the business sense to see its potential or limitations, or the idea may lack data and clarity so no one sees its value when presented to management.
An ‘Idea-Enhancement Innovation Program’ minimizes these problems by providing idea-people with the means to develop and evaluate their own idea before presentation to management, and by enabling management to make informed decisions about the idea.
I interviewed the head of ‘idea-improvement innovation programs’ in three Fortune-500 corporations to discover why they were successful. These innovation programs solicit ideas, enhance them, and then persuade management to support the idea with resources.
Such innovation support systems help idea-people to become involved in the identification and early development of ideas for new business opportunities through new technology, new products, and new processes.
In other words, these idea-enhancing programs enable people to dress up their idea before review by senior management who provide the resources for further development.
Employees submit an idea to one of the full time ‘innovation idea-helpers’ at each company site. This person works with the idea-proposer to help develop and enhance all technical and business possibilities of the idea. This includes market research, patent searches, even some preliminary research. The program then sends the proposal to experts within the company to evaluate and enhance the idea further. The purpose is to overcome snags and “improve the idea and make it work, rather than kill it,”
Then, a team of volunteers from technology, marketing, and manufacturing work on the idea under a company policy of allowing people to spend 10% time on bootleg activities. Finally, the volunteer team and the idea-proposer publicize the idea, and persuade someone in management to sponsor and provide resources for the idea’s development into a commercial product. On average, the process takes about a year.
The program also fosters an innovative environment through a newsletter, bulletin boards, speakers, videos at lunch, and leads creativity sessions when requested to solve a major problem.
The manager of the Office of Innovation told me that his company wants to dramatically speed up the development of new ideas and turn them into new businesses. “We need to develop new products, as well as new uses and new markets for old products,” he said.
The Office of Innovation helps the idea-person find seed money, resources, and guidance within the company, frame a presentation, and research the marketplace for the proposed idea. A telephone call starts the informal process, which lacks forms or fixed procedures. The Office of Innovation has substantial funds for research, training, and seed grants and brings in consultants for team creativity training.
Ideas without a ‘champion,’ the person who pushes the idea and turns it into reality, will probably die. So the Office of Innovation encourages people who send in ideas to become idea-champions by helping them perfect their idea. It directs idea-champions to people and resources within and outside of the corporation who will help improve the idea. It brings in business development and market research people to provide guidance on how to develop a business concept proposal.
When well developed, a screening committee decides whether the corporation should provide funds for further development. This committee can fund further development or it can form a business concept team. If the idea turns into a new business, the idea-champion can climb aboard, or return to the old job.
The Center for Creativity & Innovation has three major thrusts.
First, to educate people in advanced creative thinking techniques.
Second, to apply these creative thinking techniques to important business and technological problems.
Third, to help managers create a climate conducive to creativity and innovation.
The Center exposes people to internal and external experts who teach creative thinking techniques; it fosters networking between people interested in creative thinking, and it arranges creative problem solving events that tackle important business and technological problems. This last strategy is essential to impact the bottom line and show the value of creativity & innovation.
I asked the Director: “How did a scientist-administrator get involved with creative thinking and innovation?” He said: “I started reading and attending seminars on creative thinking, and realized there were good resources and workshops outside of the company that would help us be more effective.
“I circulated memos on what I learned, and they stimulated other people. I started a discussion group within the corporation that is now a large network of hundreds of company people in many countries.
“Eventually, the bottom line successes of applying creative thinking techniques to business and technological problems prompted corporate management to ask me to spread creativity & innovation throughout the company.”
• OTHER APPROACHES •
I also interviewed many people about how their creative businesses foster creativity & innovation in their employees. Here are some of the things they said…
• THE ROLES OF TOP MANAGEMENT:
Top management viewed creativity as important to the success of the business and to remaining competitive. Management deliberately called for creativity. Policies solicit new ideas, reduce bureaucracy, encourage change and different ways of doing things, foster the entrepreneurial spirit, and the belief that people want to be creative. Management tends to give little direction and few guidelines on the implementation of agreed upon goals, respects people’s competence, encourages risk and helps people learn from mistakes, wants people to excel and achieve, and promotes from within. They demand practical, profitable results.
• POWER SHARING:
People used words like autonomy, freedom, empowerment, independence, and individual thinking. They’re urged to make decisions, create solutions to work problems, and told that the best person to solve a problem is the one working on it. They need few permissions to get the job done with room to innovate. Once there is agreement on the goals, they’re given the creative freedom to do the job. Teams are assigned missions, and then turned loose to achieve goals. People are trusted and relied on to make on-the-spot decisions to help customers.
These businesses hire diverse people with untraditional backgrounds, good people given lots of leeway, thinking, talented people who are trusted to do the job.
Creativity is enjoyable, and that’s an important reward to be creative. Ideas are also rewarded with recognition and full credit. Profit sharing and bonuses were mentioned to motivate people to either implement or tell new ideas to management.
People highlighted reduced bureaucracy, vague or no job descriptions, few rules to limit creativity, fluid organization structure, lack of pigeonholing, no dead end jobs, informal interaction, calling people coworkers or associates (not subordinates), informal job structures, and more.
Many people mentioned enough time to be creative, and setting deadlines to encourage creative thinking.
• CREATIVE CLIMATE:
Most people used phrases like contagious creativity, friendly environment, be innovative and solve problems creatively, solicit and listen to new ideas, creative physical environment, individualized work area, celebrations, proximity to creative people, caring people, people feel valuable, decent treatment, catch people doing things right, sense of ownership, personal growth, achievement, and self-direction, and more.
• TEAMS, TEAM BUILDING, & TEAMWORK:
Most people mentioned teams, cooperation, and creative teamwork. They used phrases like fluid teams, respect each other’s competence, trust, clearly agreed on goals, being open to new ideas, creativity procedures, getting out of the box, and more.
• PRACTICAL CREATIVITY & INNOVATION:
Creativity had practical results. People started with spaced out, grandiose ideas, and business realities brought them back to earth.
• SOURCES FOR NEW IDEAS:
Many people spotlighted outside stimulation. They mentioned colleagues, other people, books, travel, competitors, trade fairs, magazines, customer suggestions, other stores, and team meetings as sources for their ideas. Ideas are not creative in a vacuum. Creativity depends on past experiences and knowledge, so the more you know and interact with others, the more creative you can be.
• SHARING KNOWLEDGE, IDEAS, AND VALUES:
Some businesses train and publish newsletters to keep their creative people informed. They share new ideas to foster creativity and effectiveness.
I am impressed by what these creative companies do to foster creativity and innovation. Many of these strategies can work in your company. Make a list of ways to solicit new ideas in your company for new markets for existing products, and new products for old and new markets. Describe how idea champions can be encouraged to develop and pursue ideas with which they have fallen in love. Non-evaluatively list ways resources can be found and provided to idea-champions to turn raw ideas into thriving new businesses.
And checkout my book: “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS: A FROLICKING GUIDE TO LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE” available at: https://www.createspace.com/3563703
Edward Glassman is Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University in Palo Alto, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, and a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine.
His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available at: https://www.createspace.com/3444045 two books in one.
His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is available at: https://www.createspace.com/3434091