I recently recorded a number of short videos that I have grouped together as a playlist entitled Rough Cut Creativity. They are short and recorded on an adhoc basis. They are not meant to be showreels or a tv production, just my thoughts and musings on using Creativity and Innovation in a business context. The playlist will very shortly feature on my speaker website www.derekcheshire.com but for now, you can view them by clicking on the image above. There are 4 titles currently with more to come shortly. If you have any ideas for future topics then please do let me know.
Make The Best Use of Your Environment – Researchers at University of Minnesota proved that an untidy or messy environment can actually improve our creativity. So, start with your desk. Put on it some objects that bring back good memories or that you really like. Now move away from your desk and think about your actual place of work (which could still be home). You need an area to chill out when you are taking a break from work. What would give you some stimulation if you were to say, grab a cup of coffee? Maybe step outside into the garden or stretch out on a comfy bean bag. You get the idea.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you do not follow routine all of the time. You can just move, use different coloured pens or simply talk to different people.
Get In The Right Mindset – What mental states do you associate with actually being creative. What time of day does this happen, where do you have to be physically? You should build up a sort of profile that allows you to determine when you are at your most creative and then make this happen rather than simply waiting for th eplanets to align in your favour.
As a creative person or as a less creative person trying to be more so, you may experience anxiety and tension. This is normal. It may be that previously you have been over complicating things or because you are experiencing chaos and for the time being you have no direction or feel that you are not achieving anything. With creativity, very little is aligned. Often there is a random soup of ideas out of which things leap out. This is when you have to be prepared to a) capture these somehow b) take action.
To this end, always carry a notebook or some other method of capturing ideas with you.
Change Your Viewpoint – In order to be creative it can helpful to change the way you look at the world and everything in it. This doe snot mean you have to agree with all of the things you have hated until now but just trying seeing the world from a different place. For instance, imagine you are the new US president Donald Trump. You may not agree with his viewpoint but it will give you a new slant on things. Try this with a variety of people and see what happens.
There is yet another way you can do this which is to pretend you are outside of everything like a fly on the wall just observing the world as it happens. Maybe you could pretend that you are an alien landing on earth for the first time. What on earth are all of these people doing?
Taking a different position allows you to see different things that you might have been blind to or gather information or data that you previously thought was unimportant.
In fact those who specialise in customer service or marketing might be doing this already to some extent but the further you step outside of you normal viewpoint and look at things, the more useful it can be.
It can also be interesting to combine some of these methods. For instance why not sit at a pavement cafe and people watch. Try and work out why they are doing what they are doing and how they might see you!!
As CEO, if you want people to be creative, you must be prepared to implement their viable ideas. Employees will soon work out that your support of creativity is a sham and will hold back on the creativity. After all, what’s the point in making the effort to develop and promote ideas if they just get ignored? On the other hand, if new ideas are tried out and regularly implemented, employees will be keen to keep the ideas flowing.
What you can do tomorrow
Create frameworks for developing, testing and implementing creative ideas.
Ditch The Metrics
Business leaders rely a huge range of metrics to work out how well their businesses are doing. This often includes attempting to measure creativity which is fairly abstract and hence difficult to measure. The result is that you will measure the wrong stuff just so that you can feed numbers into monthly reports.
How many ideas you have, how many people participate in your ideas programmes etc. are very nice numbers but they are useless. What matters is a) having ideas and b) doing something with them. That is how you will be profitable.
What you can do tomorrow
Stop counting the way you have been. Measure success through the number of new products, improved existing products, better packaging, improved processes, positive PR etc.
Hire Creative People
Most companies claim they want to hire creative thinkers and those with entrepreneurial backgrounds (who are assumed to be rather creative).
Diversity feeds creativity while uniformity leads to conformity. If the CEO wants creative employees, she must ensure the company hires people with diverse backgrounds and creative minds, not people who fit a corporate mould.
Diversity should not simply be limited to experience and education. Women, people from different cultures and even people of different sexual orientations can bring new thinking and creativity to a business.
What you can do tomorrow
Invest in training for your human resources team so that they can understand, hire and encourage creative employees. Train managers to support rather than hinder creative employees. Establish a policy of encouraging diversity in hiring.
Participate in Creativity and Innovation Activities
When running creativity and innovation workshops I have found that the results improve if the CEO is present and actively participates. Both organisers and participants of the event will get a lift and this will also send a powerful message that you, the CEO, actually cares about innovation.
Be careful though, this works only if active participation occurs and attendees feel that here is genuine openness. If attendees feel that the CEO has a hidden agenda then they will always go for the safe option.
What you can do tomorrow
Actively participate in creativity and innovation activities, but be careful about the ones you pick.
So here at least 4 things that you can do tomorrow. What is stopping you?
Many people get “Creative’s block” when they are faced with a requirement to come up with ideas or solve a problem. At other times their creativity overflows! Others, after having no time to play or practise, wish they had more free time, and when they finally get it, they are not in the mood. This article provides some tips which might help you kick start your creativity if ever you get stuck. These suggestions might not cure your problem but they should start you on the path to finding something that will. Note that for this to be useful in the world of business you should have some use in mind for this else it is simply messing around (but good fun).
Make time for being creative. With the demands of business/life, you will never get round to being creative ever again! Try to spend at least half an hour doing something different. Maybe sketch an idea that you have had for a while, measure out a prototype in your office or go and look for some appropriate new colours. If you’re creative activities relate to generating ideas then make sure that you have a notepad and pen handy to capture them.
Plan ahead. If you know that you are going to have regular ‘creative breaks’ then think about what you would like to do or achieve in them. If you need specific tools (A4 paper, pens, juggling balls, mat to lie on) then get them ready in advance. Spend your time being creative not getting ready to be creative!
Keep a creativity journal. In this journal, you can write down any ideas that come into your head any time of day or night (yes you should keep it beside your bed). These can be ideas, problem solutions, preferences, questions or just a list of things to try.
Gather ideas from your surroundings. Look all around you, outside the window, on the shelves, under the bed, on the counter… take photos or look at something interesting from more than one view. But be patient: It may take some time to try to find an interesting subject to play with! Try to do different things to force changes in your surroundings. Take a new route to work, catch a different bus, go to a different sandwich shop, sit the wrong way round in the bath (but mind the taps). If you need to store these then make use of your creativity journal.
Gather knowledge. Learn from the greats and the not so greats! There are plenty of things out there that you can learn and master, and even more failures that you can learn from. The internet, TV, newspapers and just listening to your elders all provide a rich source of knowledge.
Take photos. Many of us have cameras or smart phones. Take pictures and use the voice recording feature also. Anything captured can be used to help present your ideas or to act as a springboard for future creativity sessions.
‘Thinking outside the box’ is a phrase that I hate but sometimes you just have to use the language that others use! My first objection to the actual phrase is that by mentioning a box you have just introduced a box that you now simply cannot ignore. Do you remember the old saying ‘don’t think of a blue elephant’? After reading this you will be hard pushed to forget about it!
My next objection to the concept of a box is that some people decide to implement innovation or at least conduct creative thinking by introducing a separate space (commonly a room or ‘laboratory’) in which to work. So we tell our employees to ‘think outside of the box’, a phrase that we should avoid anyway, and then actually put them inside a box!
Innovation requires changes to behaviour, a rich set of stimuli, freedom to think and experiment and opportunities to interact so we should really be releasing our employees into something much bigger than a box. In fact when we release our employees into this imaginary thinking space they do not wander far from home. It is the idea of freedom that is important, not necessarily the freedom itself.
To aid creative thinking don’t try and create a space with a shape, just let off the brakes and see what happens.
Not just Creativity, Innovation too! Here are my top ten ways to help your business get along in challenging times.
Knowledge is a key Innovation component. Use what you already have and try to learn from as many different sources as you can. Read things you might not normally read or do things that you might not normally do.
Many of the rules of creativity touch on judging. Build up rather than say ‘yes but’ and try to see things through the eyes of others.
Many business people only ‘see’ things that are written in documents. To get different views why not model in some way (play doh, Lego, rich pictures) or perform some sort of visualisation for which many scripts are available.
Teresa Amabile compares much of work life to running on a treadmill. People constantly try to keep up with the demands of meetings, email, interruptions, deadlines, and the never-ending need to be more productive and creative. Yet on many days they seem to make no progress at all, especially in creative endeavours.
“Many companies are running much too lean right now in terms of the number of employees,” said Amabile, the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a director of research at Harvard Business School. So the treadmill speeds up, compelling time-strapped employees to do ever more with less.
It is widely thought that intrinsic motivation has the greatest effect on creativity and that extrinsic motivation has a detrimental effect. One wonders, is this really true?
In the workplace we find that employees fully apply their skills and expertise and devote more time and energy when they are challenged or curious. This intrinsic motivation thus has a direct effect on the creative outcomes that we are looking for. So in order to get more and better ‘creative outcomes’ we should reward teh behaviour that helps create them. Right?
Many organisations do attempt to use rewards such as money or recognition to stimulate creativity in employees. Psychologists in particular, argue that this may actually have a detrimental effect. Put simply, motivation can be thought of having two components, extrinsic and extrinsic (instead of being two separate types of motivation). They can be of differing magnitudes so that one component can dominate. Creative behaviour is stimulated by intrinsic motivation but if a large monetary reward is offered this will ‘drown out’ the intrinsic component. The effect is twofold. Firstly the wrong sort of motivation is being applied and secondly employees will begin to associate creative outcomes with extrinsic and not intrinsic motivation. Employees get the wrong idea and management do not get the creative outcomes they desire.
Think about other outcomes that depend on intrinsic motivation such as volunteering for charitable organisations. Offering significant rewards does not significantly increase output but does link output to monetary gain in the eyes of staff.
Common sense tells us that it should be possible to get the right blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation but this will depend on the type of people that we are trying to motivate and the types of jobs that they do. Research suggests that monetary rewards do actually work for employees that have routine jobs. These are typically jobs where employees have little or no personal control. A reward system acts as a sort of feedback mechanism, telling such employees that their contributions are valued and enhancing their feelings of control.
If employees are already feeling motivated and with a degree of personal control then monetary rewards may act as a distraction and cause a loss of focus. It is therefore clear that monetary reward systems do not suit everybody. We could be wasting our money!
If it matters what types of job people undertake, does it matter what sort of behaviour we are trying to stimulate? In short the answer is yes. If original, high quality ideas are rewarded, employees are more likely to come up with high quality ideas in subsequent tasks. On the other hand, if any kind of ideas is rewarded, employees tend not to engage themselves fully in the generation of further creative ideas, lowering the ‘quality’ of their creativity.
In conclusion, it seems that the effect of rewarding creativity with money or recognition is more complicated than we think. In the right conditions, creativity can be stimulated using extrinsic rewards. Yet extrinsic rewards can lower the creativity of highly motivated employees working on challenging and complex tasks e.g. employees working in research or innovation programmes.
We must be cautious when designing systems targeted at increasing organisational creativity. The reward system must be matched to the job at hand (especially the degree of complexity) and the types of people who work on those jobs, as well as the type of creativity that the organisation so desperately needs.