Creating Creativity: How to Breed Ideas in the Business World
One of the most sought-after attributes in the current climate is creativity. As the world struggles through a period of recession, and companies have to adapt or die, there’s a common feeling that being “creative” is the passport to success. It’s the quality that allows you to change, refine your approach, appeal more precisely to your audience and learn the harsh lessons of the world—and learn them quickly.
It’s easy to think that creativity is a divinely bestowed gift, like good looks or charm. But that’s an excuse, a hiding place; the truth is that you can cultivate it and foster it within your team, both with the grafting on of rootstock from outside and from the nurturing of existing talent. Not only can you do this, but you must, in order to stay alive and competitive.
The first key is finding that rootstock. Managers, leaders and entrepreneurs have to be really good at talent-spotting, requiring a sharp eye and an open mind. You need to look at employees and potential recruits as rounded individuals rather than a resume to plug a capability gap. You may hire an IT specialist or an accountant or a graphic designer, but what else do they bring to the table? We’re told that resumes are less and less useful—that’s a massively missed opportunity. You may find that your accountant speaks conversational Spanish or that your designer is certified in risk management. Dig into their skills and exploit them.
Just as important as talent spotting is talent management. It doesn’t do any good to hire great people if you then underuse their abilities and leave them to atrophy; or, worse, if you create nothing but a training paddock from which they then go on to successful careers with your competitors. Having performed a measure of “skills archaeology” on their resumes, make sure you deploy those skills. If one of your best tech workers has innovative ideas about team structures, let them implement those ideas and see how they work. It’s axiomatic that a fresh perspective can bring new insights, so encourage that. Whether it’s an ideas wall or a weekly “show-and-tell” for people to air their idle thoughts, make sure you’re capturing the full spectrum of your workforce’s abilities and potential. Doing anything else seems self-defeating.
The other part of talent management is sustaining a happy workforce. Employees want to be engaged and valued, so you need to let them indulge their passions and take risks. Seeking input and celebrating effort, as well as success, will help your team feel that they are more than just job titles, that they have genuine careers of which you are conscious and which you are managing. In large organizations, don’t shuffle people haphazardly or at random. It sounds corny, but curate their professional progression and involve them in that process. What do they enjoy doing? What would they like to do more of, what do they want to do less? What speaks to them? Companies that invest in the well-being and contentment of their employees perform better. It’s as simple as that.
This brings us to the final course of action. In order for your employees to feel truly engaged and valued, they have to have a sense of common and worthwhile purpose. In other words, they need to understand not just what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it. This is not always easy. Countless businesses spend limitless time and money on vapid slogans and mission statements; the truth is that capturing and communicating an authentic purpose is hard. You should express your underlying motivation rather than simply describe mechanistically what you do; for example, rather than doing the books for a pharmacy chain, your accountant will be involved in delivering first-class pharmaceutical support to the local community. It can sound trite, but that switch of perspective is all-important.
Why does all of this matter? It matters because you will not only unlock the creativity latent in your employees, and that which you have carefully imported to strengthen your team, but you will also be providing a space in which people can breathe, look around them, feel part of a joint venture and give rein to their creative instincts and talents. We all know, instinctively, that pressure saps creativity; anyone who’s written on a deadline can attest to that. You don’t need to implement gimmicks like a break-out room with a pool table or Margarita Mondays (though if that works for your employees, then don’t rule it out), but treat your workforce like individual human beings with abilities, knowledge and skills, and let them know that they can express them all. Let them know you value them, that they’re important and that you’re all making the same journey.
Create creativity. It will make your workforce happier, and it will make you more money. Frame it like that, and you’d be a fool not to.
Eliot Wilson is the cofounder of Pivot Point, a change management, strategy and PR consultancy based in London.