Creative Challenge


These are just some of the questions that business owners may be asking. If you were to ask five people to look into their collective crystal balls and see what the world would be like in four years, not surprisingly you would likely get five different answers. If you widened your sample and asked 20 additional people the same questions, you would likely get again, 20 totally different answers. The only conclusion that you might draw from this is: i) change will happen even more quickly than before and ii) throw out long term plans and ideas based on past performances because they may not prove to be as effective as they once were. Beyond the above, perhaps the question everyone should be asking is: “What can my business do to prepare for unprecedented and exponential change?” In a word, CREATIVITY. Creativity, in a business context, is perhaps best defined as original ideas that have value. The reason creativity is so important is that a company’s only sustainable competitive advantage is its ability to continually generate new ideas.

Even a truly breakthrough product has a very limited shelf life before a competitor (located either next door or half way around the world) can imitate it, duplicate it, improve on it or render it obsolete. Because everything is changing so rapidly, tried and trusted solutions to business problems may not always meet with the success of the past. The most successful company will be the one that thinks creatively and implements solutions that are very different from the past practices.

So if creativity is the one thing that can help a business long term, you may be asking yourself, “How can I (or my company) be more creative?” The answer, “There’s no ‘one specific thing’ but there are a number of initiatives that will increase creativity.”

EVERYONE’S GOT ‘IT’: Creativity resides in and can be cultivated with everyone. In keeping with the old adage that a problem well defined is half solved, the first step to improving creativity is to recognize that frequently the biggest hurdle to creativity is that a company’s current policies weren’t designed to promote innovative and different thinking. They were designed to promote standardization, conformity and a certain type of skill set. A previously untapped creative resource is now being actively pursued, in a high-tech way, by two very innovative companies. Both Dell Computers and Starbucks have websites that enable their customers to submit ideas as to how the companies’ products and services can be improved. Once on the website, customers are also encouraged to vote for the ideas they think have the most merit.

IS CREATIVITY REALLY ENCOURAGED: If an employee places his or her well thought out and well intentioned recommendation in an ‘idea box’ and then never gets any acknowledgement or feedback… innovation is not going to flourish?

To really harness the creative energy within a company, it should be someone’s responsibility/role to oversee and move the creative ideas along. An easy first step might be having a panel or team from various departments get together and regularly assess the submitted ideas. This meeting should review the progress of all of the past ideas that were submitted and forward the best ideas for further research or implementation. To add some perspective to the power of creativity, the range of receptivity to new ideas is best illustrated by the fact that North American companies adopt about 38% of all creative ideas presented to them, as compared to Japanese companies who adopt about 90%.

SHARE THE SUCCESS: The person (or persons) responsible for company creativity needs to have the power to recognize and reward employees that develop good ideas. Some companies are willing to pay thousands of dollars for the right ideas. Others are willing to pay a percentage of the money saved or earned from an idea. This reward recognition will go far to encourage the creative environment in any company.

CREATIVITY IS FRAGILE: Unfortunately it is all too easy for a company to create, even unknowingly, an atmosphere that discourages creative ideas from developing. A great idea, such as how to manufacture a product more efficiently, may either never surface or be rejected because it threatens co-workers’ jobs. One way to stimulate creativity is not to allow employees to get complacent in their jobs. Rotating them around and having them do other jobs in the company is a great way to improve creativity. This process will enable them to see the whole picture within the company and keep them from believing that their part of the process is the only thing that matters. After the employees see a larger picture, they understand why certain procedures are in place. Additionally, they will see which other policies and procedures are out-dated and what areas can be improved. This is a great way to stimulate creativity within a company.

CREATIVE PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT: Often innovators can be different from the ‘average’ employee. They tend to be more curious and probably more intelligent than the average person. There was reason that both Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steven Jobs (Apple) had to start their own companies… prevailing corporate culture was not structured to recognize and properly channel their respective talents and creativity.

CREATIVITY IS WORK: People become creative when they let their minds wander and mix random ideas freely. Creativity often comes from seemingly unexpected relationships (like a cell phone that is also a camera, a personal calendar and music library). But don’t expect employees to be brilliantly creative by having them sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. The only way to create is to build their skills and knowledge, dig in and try out new ideas. If the corporate climate is one where employees are afraid to fail, then the company won’t see the innovation and different thinking that it needs for its future success.

CREATIVITY IS UNPREDICTABLE: Assuming the proper environment is in place… creativity will certainly happen. But one must recognize that no one can predict or control who will be the big creative contributor, what the next creative act or idea will be or when it will happen. The best thing a company can do is to build an environment where creativity is encouraged and then await the results. One study found that creativity is actually a social process and creative people often are stimulated by working with others. A culture that does not support open communication between different areas of the company is not a culture that supports creativity. Successful companies nurture both creative people and the creative process during good times and bad. They develop and build a portfolio of ideas that helps them weather the bad times and take advantage of the good times.

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