According to an IBM study, 60 percent of CEOs polled identified creativity as the single most important leadership quality for success in business. Innovation and growth in the workplace thrive on new ideas, but how does your company actually foster creative thinking? What practical measures can you take to encourage staff members to think creatively? Phrases such as “thinking outside of the box” and “thought leadership” are frequently tossed around, though employees often struggle with how to implement such general suggestions. Here are some practical measures you can suggest in your office to encourage your team to think more creatively.
Foster an open environment
Employees need to feel they have room to speak and be heard. Managers can cultivate an environment in which team members are unafraid to propose bold ideas by establishing specific forums that encourage creativity. For example, hold dedicated brainstorming sessions with your team, in which you support expansive thinking and reinforce the idea that there are no bad suggestions or ideas. Encourage employees to speak up with action plans for new ideas, and demonstrate your openness by being as transparent as possible with staff members about why previous ideas were or were not successful. Your goal is to foster creative thinkers, not instill a fear of mistakes.
Allow for failure
It’s important to let your employees know that you don’t expect perfection or thoroughly polished ideas and projects each and every time they are asked for their creative contributions. Staff members need to be allowed to come up with plans that go awry and to be able to take risks without negative consequences. Managers一and companies一learn from mistakes, and failing wisely helps avoid catastrophic errors.
“Once [employees] see, firsthand, the value of putting out what we call a ‘low-resolution prototype’ and getting feedback from a key constituent, and seeing how that direct[s] the next step, people start to become believers in that process,” explained Graham Henshaw, executive director of the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center at the College of William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business, on the W&M Leadership and Business podcast. “[Innovators must have] an openness to risk…You’re willing to take risks where you might fail, but you learn something from that failure and move forward,” he continued, emphasizing, “[You need] a tolerance for ambiguity...You’re withholding that need for immediate closure.”
Reward your employees for thinking experimentally, even if their ideas fall flat or proposed projects don't pan out as planned. Acknowledge original designs or suggestions verbally in meetings, and bring up fresh ideas you’ve noticed from employees during reviews. If a project was a success, celebrate with your team, and be certain to name employees who were involved in the process.
Give employees time
According to the Atlantic, employees lose 40 percent of their working hours between meetings, administrative tasks and various “interruptions.” Rethink how the work day is structured, because creativity doesn’t happen on demand. If you’re asking employees to come up with innovative ideas, allow for structured time on designated days for them to experiment, think and work on possible solutions to problems. Because people work best under differing situations, offer employees options on how they can complete creative assignments. Would they like to set aside a window of time to turn off email notifications and chats? Could there be a portion of the day when meetings cannot be scheduled or a day in the week with reduced meetings? If you’re asking for creative outputs, there has to be space for employees to produce those results.
Allow ideas to be delivered in a new format
If your office does not have a process for soliciting new ideas, create one. If you have a standard way for employees to offer new ideas, it may be beneficial to breathe new life into the longstanding process. There are as many effective approaches as there are individuals: Ask an employee for their idea in a quick sketch during a one-on-one meeting, or have them send or deliver you an elevator pitch, or hand in an informal, one-paragraph idea pitch. Sometimes, allowing an employee who is more visually oriented to draw out an idea can be beneficial to their individual creative process and your understanding of their idea. It could be that proposing ideas in a different format could switch on new project light bulbs.
Fostering creative thinking in the workplace isn’t as simple as ordering employees to become “thought leaders.” Establishing an open environment, allowing for failure and carving out time in busy schedules are realistic ways you can help create a culture of innovation and move forward to meet challenges in business.