Innovation has long been recognised as one of the most crucial factors that affects an organisation’s success. The only constant in life is that things change and evolve, and if your competitors are evolving when you are not, you risk being left behind in the marketplace. Innovation is central to this change and broadly speaking it is achieved by either: looking outside your organisation for innovation, taking inspiration and ideas from competitors, suppliers, collaborators or from an organisation in a completely different industry; or you seek innovation and creativity from within your organisation.
Creativity does not happen by chance, the very innovative and creative companies that you might think of have taken great efforts to facilitate creativity by building it into the way they work. Here are some of the ways that creativity can be encouraged in an organisation:
Time. Time is one of the most frequently cited reasons why operational managers and staff cannot be creative or improve their processes. Generating and developing ideas to a useful state takes time. Facing tight time constraints and working a full nine-to-five, or frequently longer job does not allow this. Some companies deliberately leave up to 10% or more employees time unallocated so it can be used to foster innovation and creativity.
Information. Knowledge management is a popular area of organisational development. One of the most important abilities of a successful and innovative organisation is to make sure that the right information is in the right place at the right time to allow for informed decision making.
You must also share the lessons learned from ‘failures’. To fail once is, in itself, not necessary bad, making the same mistakes a second or third time is. Developments that do not provide benefits should be analysed, and the results of this analysis shared to improve the effectiveness of project management and idea development.
Experimentation. Ideas that are not explored and tested with will either never see it to implementation or will fail the first time they are put into practice.
Trying things out and analysing trials is a hallmark of an innovative culture. You cannot expect new ideas to work first time, idea development is an iterative process where you learn through careful piloting and subsequent analysis.
Fun. Play is not commonly recognised as being productive, and it is actually repressed by education and work systems, and environments. A culture where child-like playfulness is encouraged lets people experiment without knowing what will happen.
Freedom. Narrow job descriptions and micro management constrain creativity. Staff should be given freedom of choice and enough genuine authority to achieve the challenges they have been set.
Energy. When you walk into some workplaces you can feel a ‘buzz’ about the place, an almost palpable energy, it feels like the organisation is going places and that the staff feel energised and excited to be part of it.
Taking a concept from idea generation through to implementation is a long and arduous process. It requires a dynamic environment in which people are energised and constantly pushing forward.
Conflict and debate. Healthy conflict promotes innovation and creativity. This requires openness to challenge and debate, but the focus must be on the problem rather than the people involved. When the conflict focuses on personalities, the value of different individuals, or turns into personal attacks, ideas and their value are lost.