7 ways to make your company more creative

Every manager knows that culture is crucial for the future of an organisation. But how do you establish a creative culture? How do you get people to be open minded, flexible, full of ideas and innovative? Well… it’s actually not that hard. Here are 7 ways to do it.

1. Ask The Newbies
New employees quickly become accustomed to the ‘normal’ course of affairs. Because of groupthink, it will not take long before the newbies will think and act in the same way as all the other employees. Although conforming to the group is necessary for social interaction, it’s killing for the innovative character of the organisation. As a result of groupthink assumptions are rarely questioned and the freshness of new employees is seldom fully used.

Brian Frezza and D.J. Kleinbaum, the CEOs of the U.S. biotech startup Emerald Therapeutics found a creative solution to this problem. Within their company all new employees are asked to fill in a “fresh eye journal”. New employees often spot problems and mistakes, that the long-term employees consider normal. Thanks to the report the CEOs are able to discover new opportunities and threats on time.

2. Visit Customers
Customers are a great source of feedback. They know exactly what they want and they can tell you precisely what they’re missing and what can be improved about your product or service.

Besides interviewing your clients you can also choose to observe them. According to Tom Kelley, general manager at IDEO, going out in the field is a key phase in the creative process. He proclaims that with observation you can almost always spot opportunities. Observing customers provides you with invaluable insights that you never would have guessed or discovered with desktop research alone.

Ten years ago IDEO was asked to design a new children’s toothbrush for Oral-B. Until then the toothbrushes for kids looked similar to the ones for grown ups, only smaller and skinnier. During the first day of observation, the designers at IDEO made a small discovery. They noticed that children do not brush the same way as adults do, because they don’t have the fine motor skills that their parents have. Instead, children fist their toothbrush near it’s head and brush like they are punching themselves in the face. This funny insight led to an innovative new design; the now omnipresent big and fat toothbrushes that are easy to use for children.

3. Stimulate Intrapreneurship
A great way to stimulate employees to be more proactive and entrepreneurial is by encouraging them to start their own initiatives within the company.

Google’s “20 percent time” is a famous example that shows the creative potential of allowing people to set up their own projects. The policy allows engineers to spend one day a week to work on projects that aren’t necessarily in their job descriptions. They can use the time to improve an existing product, fix something that is broken or they can work on completely new ideas.

The policy has has led to some of Google’s most amazing products like Gmail, Google maps, Google Talk, Google News, AdSense and many other innovations. The initiated projects are not just for fun. Around 50% of Google’s products are a direct result of the policy. Adsense alone is responsible for around 25 percent of Google’s annual revenue!

4. Encourage Play
Stimulating play among employees has lots of positive effects. It’s fun, reduces stress, increases motivation and makes people more open minded, optimistic and creative. According to Dr. Stuart Brown, a pioneer in research on the subject and founder of the National Institute for Play, nothing lights up the brain like play. Play is far more than just fun, It’s serious business. It helps us to understand the world around us and it is crucial for creative problem solving.

Getting your people to be more playful can be achieved in many ways. You can set up a playful work environment like the famous offices from Google, Pixar and Facebook or you can simply challenge your team for a game of table football.

Another interesting method to boost the playfulness among your employees is to make use of Lego® Serious Play®. This method is a fun approach to develop and explain ideas within groups by making use of Lego building blocks.

5. Create Open Innovation
The commonly used suggestion box doesn’t work. Although the intention to involve everyone with innovation is excellent, the execution itself is almost always poorly done. More often than not suggestion- and idea boxes reach the opposite of their intended effect. They lead to scepticism about the need and support for creativity and novel ideas. Because if the suggestions are not useful and are not used they will generate unmotivated personnel.

Placing a suggestion box in your organisation is not enough to establish a creative culture. For starters, if you don’t have a focus topic you will get all kinds of ideas. From the smallest details, to the most ambitious future scenarios for the company. From tips on irrelevant themes to opinions on extremely technical subjects. And then what? Who is going to judge those ideas? What are the criteria? Which of them are carried out?

A better alternative is open innovation. Make it clear what kind of ideas you are looking for, how you are going to evaluate the ideas and what you are going to do with them. Ask everybody to participate, from within every layer of the organisation. Ask clients customers also to come up with suggestions as well. Open innovation makes it much easier to find useful ideas. Besides it makes people optimistic about the innovative character of the organisation, as ideas will be carried out more frequently.

6. Manage Ideas
These days more and more organisations are managing their ideas. Because of idea management software it has become fun and easy to save, collect and categorise ideas. These tools are extremely useful to increase employee engagement and to gain creative input from within the entire organisation.

Timing is everything when it comes to ideas. You want to be the first and at the same time you want to be successful. Those two do not always go hand in hand. Innovative ideas are not necessarily successful ideas. Innovation only occurs when novel ideas are successfully implemented. To establish innovation you need support. With idea management you are able to go back and reintroduce an old concept or idea when timing is better.

Of course it also happens that your idea is really innovative but the technology that’s necessarily for it’s execution is missing at the time. In these moments it’s good to know that you can always go back to your idea once the technology is available.

Another great benefit of idea management is the existence of a database with ideas and solutions. Browsing this collection will certainly come in handy when you are looking for inspiration to solve your challenge. The possibility to search within topics and labels is especially useful when you are looking for similar situations or wanting to explore a specific topic.

7. Experiment

If you want to be innovative you have to be prepared to try out new ideas. Innovation is risky. You’ll never know in advance whether novel ideas will work or not. However, if you experiment and challenge written and unwritten rules you are able to make progress in giant leaps.

Failures are part of progress. It’s being said that the American company DuPont even got a “Golden Egg” award, to reward the best failures. It reflects that DuPont wants people to try out new ideas and it ensures that employees can learn from each other’s mistakes.

When journalists asked Thomas A. Edison about his many failed attempts to invent the light bulb, he replied “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

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Flickr Creative Commons Image via Matt McGee.

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  • Joan

    Nice read!

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