“The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts the moment you get up and doesn’t stop until you get into the office.” ~ Robert Frost
How is it that talented, creative people join organisations only to have the creative spark extinguished within days of starting? After all, most companies start with an entrepreneur with an idea and ambition to change things for the better or make stuff happen. Surely they would build creative cultures with plenty of space for innovation? Not so.
Today, it is becoming even more important for businesses to continually innovate. I don’t need to read the roll call of failing businesses and industries that ignored this and are now no more. I’ve worked in large corporations that have hired poets and theatre-groups to shake us out of our doldrums. Teams are asked to ‘think the unthinkable’.
I expect that many CEO’s of companies think a lot about where ideas come from, and how they protect those ideas. Almost anything can be copied in a couple of months.
It seems obvious to me that the answer lies in your people – the individuals within your company. And if you have a culture that turns them into drones who have learnt over time not to rock the boat for fear of losing their job or their status, you aren’t going to generate many ideas from inside the company.
I’ve been on the receiving end of several desperate calls for innovation from the Board. They set up an innovation team who settle in to look at the ‘art of the possible’. It’s ridiculous. You can’t innovate by committee.
Look, I get it. Many businesses are just trying to stay afloat. Individual managers and companies are trained to be risk-averse. The risks of getting things wrong are too great.
Creativity is, by its very nature difficult to manage and dangerous.
But I also observe a far more creepy effect. A passive-aggressive culture in many organisations in which the silent mediocrity is protected by an army of people who don’t want anything to change.
Corporations create their own language, a culture of how employees can act and dress, even a particular way of thinking. This helps people to work towards a common goal: but it stifles aberrant behaviour and thinking, and creativity is, by its nature, aberrant.
Oh dear. What to do about it?
Well. Creativity is individual. Only creativity can provide the transforming idea that makes a great company and leaves competitors trying to catch up. Creativity is human – and it’s the only differentiator in a world where everything is copied or shared.
Here at KindredHQ we would contend that you should set your great people free to be individual and human, bringing them in to help you relight your company’s creative fire. Build yourself an army of individuals who aren’t concerned with holding onto their long term job or pension and see success as being their ability to make a quick impact.
But we also recognise that there are many people who are striving to make a difference every day in organisations, and to keep their own creative flame alight. If that’s you, here are 5 of the techniques that we’ve found helped us enormously.
1. Don’t rely on gurus
That’s the lazy way to innovate. And in any case, it’s just making them richer and you more confused. It’s wise to listen, but unwise to follow without question.
Some of the most successful people in the world did what others told them would never work. They knew something about their own idea that even the gurus didn’t know.
2. Learn the agile way
It’s been said many many times. Noone wants to make mistakes or fail. But if you try too hard to avoid failure, you’ll also avoid success.
You should aim to make more mistakes – which is counter-intuitive. Noone will remember the little mistakes you make along the way, but they will remember your big idea.
3. Create chaos
Life just isn’t neat and tidy and to truly innovate, you’ve got to make a mess. Which will stress a whole load of your colleagues out. Tough.
4. We don’t do things like that around here
The pressure on you to conform is immense. After all, if you are successful, you will show up the mediocrity. You may well be open-minded about the possibilities, but most people around you will not. Don’t listen! Stick to your guns and find some like minds around who will help and support you.
5. Don’t set your hurdles too low
To deliver really breakthrough ideas, you’ve got to set yourself targets that are stretching. They will be uncomfortable, but imagine that it’s like stretching muscles that have been unused for a while. It’ll be a bit painful, but you’ll quickly see the results.
I’ve often been amazed that stuff I never thought I could or would do seems routine these days.
And best of all, it’s catching….