Major changes like Covid, digital transformation and the growing environmental emergency are disrupting traditional business models and creating huge impetus for transformation and innovation. To succeed, today’s organizations need to be highly adaptive and constantly innovate to keep pace with disruptive forces and changing customer preferences.
Yet too many companies still stifle the ideas and creativity of their employees. They straitjacket people with directive leadership and rigid policies, processes, and procedures, smothering the voice and imagination of their people. The results are predictable. Motivation, teamwork, and innovation nosedive, followed by declines in customer loyalty and financial results.
To succeed and compete in this new era of disruption and innovation, organizations need to learn how to harness employees’ incredible creative potential, as innovation is a distinctly human endeavour. The world’s most innovative companies systematically devise ways to promote a culture of collaboration, creativity, and innovation. Here’s how you can do the same by putting these principles at the heart of your organization’s people strategy:
Develop creative thinking capabilities
Creative and imaginative thinking involves intentionally expanding our thinking to find new and useful ideas and solutions to overcome problems, accelerate innovation and enable the organization to achieve its goals. Studies show that it is one of the most important competencies for leaders and teams to possess to be effective. In future, it is likely to become even more important because of growing rates of change and disruptive innovation. Just like emotional intelligence, it is also extremely difficult for AI and intelligent machines to perform creative problem-solving as effectively as humans.
But creative thinking is not natural for most employees, as it is not taught at school or even by most universities. Organizations seeking higher rates of innovation should therefore invest in training their staff in creative and collaborative thinking methods, ensuring people have the skills, tools, and techniques to unlock the power of cognitive diversity and people’s collective ideas. Through developing creative thinking skills like learner mindset, powerful questioning, reframing, divergent thinking and cognitive diversity, organizations will promote a culture that encourages curiosity, experimentation, and innovation.
Build teams comprised of diverse strengths and styles
At innovative companies like Google, LVMH, Apple, Unilever and Salesforce, employees are encouraged to express their individuality and apply their unique strengths, imagination, and know-how to achieve their own goals and those of the wider business. Employees in these companies are not expected to be well-rounded. They are empowered to optimize their strengths and work with diverse team members that complement them. By building highly inclusive and cognitively diverse teams, these companies unlock ideas, creative problem-solving and improved rates of innovation. They also become ‘talent magnets’ for the most talented people who seek organizations that provide opportunities for them to shape decisions and the future of the business.
Build a connected, team-based organization where ideas and knowledge flow freely
Innovative organizations create opportunities for people from different parts of the business to connect and work together in mixed teams that span diverse functions and business areas. A growing number of innovative and dynamic businesses are organized into natural teams that assemble to deliver specific projects or products then disband once the project outcome or product is delivered. This way of organizing work is a natural evolution of the popular matrix structures found in many innovative organizations.
However, the big difference is that functional lines of reporting are looser or even non-existent. Work is organised by team leaders and highly empowered teams and people are assigned to teams based on their experience, performance track record, and strengths. Innovative organizations also promote informal and frequent connections among employees by enabling people to socialise and have fun together, both in physical and online environments. Enabling employees to spend such time together builds trust, improves collaboration, and accelerates knowledge flows. This provides more opportunities for employees to discuss and refine ideas, as well as a chance to share insights, and better practices.
Promote psychologically safe workplaces
Many organizations are now promoting psychological safety as a fundamental pillar or their people strategy. This is crucial as people need to feel they are in a safe and supportive environment that appreciates them and values their input and contribution.
However, there is another compelling business reason to pursue a culture where psychological safety becomes the norm. To succeed in today’s ever-changing environment, organizations are going to need to accelerate creative thinking and innovation. The only way to do this is to ensure everyone feels they can openly and honestly voice their ideas and opinions, no matter how controversial or challenging these are.
Encourage ideas and experimentation
Employers often unintentionally cultivate risk averse and conservative cultures through centralising decision-making and stifling the creativity of people at lower levels in the organization. They create a fear culture by discouraging risk-taking, initiative, and direct challenge of top management. In innovative organizations like Gore, Meta and 3M, employees are actively encouraged to engage in creative problem-solving, hackathons and experiments to improve products, processes, and practices. Leaders in these companies recognise that tolerating mistakes is required to accelerate progress and achieve breakthrough innovation. They encourage and reward employees for coming up with great ideas to improve the business and its products, creating greater value for customers and other stakeholders. They also empower people to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone and embrace curiosity, agility, and continuous learning.
Today’s organizations need to be able to adapt quickly and innovate in the face of fast-changing conditions. Leaders and teams who can anticipate, innovate, and adapt faster will enable the business to gain a clear competitive advantage over rivals. They will also be able to attract and retain the best talent, as the most talented people look for employers that value and leverage their ideas and full potential. By implementing these five principles organizations can accelerate creative thinking and unlock the extraordinary creative potential of their people.