“A new idea is delicate,” according to legendary advertising executive Charlie Brower. “It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a whip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.” Negative environments kill thousands of great ideas every minute—ideas your company needs to stay competitive. Your leaders and managers are the ones who choose to cultivate a creative workplace environment or to stifle new ideas before they can grow. Virgin Airlines founder and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson puts it this way: “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”
So what are your managers doing to cultivate the creative instincts of your employees? Here are 7 ways leaders can boost creativity in the workplace:
- Encourage creativity: Studies show that people are naturally creative but often feel as if they need permission to express that creativity. When leaders encourage and reward innovative thinking, people see they do have permission—and good ideas start to grow.
- Place a high value on trust: Creativity always risks failure. That’s why your leaders must demonstrate they trust their team members to be creative. In the creative process, trust comes from knowing that the people working together want what’s best for the organization and each other. It comes from the assurance that the time coming up with creative ideas won’t go to waste, because the ideas will be implemented.
- Embrace those who are most creative: How should leaders treat the most creative people on their teams? Spend time with them. Pull them into brainstorming sessions. Most people often look forward to invitations to such meetings because the time is filled with energy, ideas, and laughter. And the odds are high that new ideas will emerge from them.
- Focus on innovation, not just invention: Creativity needs to begin somewhere. Sam Weston, creator of the popular action figure GI Joe, said, “Truly groundbreaking ideas are rare, but you don’t necessarily need one to make a career out of creativity.” Often the best way for people on your team to contribute in a creative way is to imagine innovative applications, not create completely new concepts.
- Place a high value on options: Creative people are “other” thinkers. They are always thinking about and looking for other ways of doing things because they know that options bring opportunities. To encourage that practice, leaders can ask three things of employees:
- The best information possible
- Other possible options
- The reasoning behind the option they would choose
- Be willing to let people go outside the lines: Most people automatically stay within lines, even if those lines have been arbitrarily drawn or are terribly out of date. But if your leaders want teams to be more creative, challenge boundaries. Charles Kettering, inventor and head of research at General Motors for nearly three decades, said, “All human development, no matter what form it takes, must be outside the rules; otherwise, we would never have anything new.”
- Appreciate the power of a dream: A creative environment promotes the freedom of a dream. A creative environment encourages the use of a blank sheet of paper and the question, “If we could draw a picture of what we want to accomplish, what would that look like?” A creative environment allowed Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak with passion and declare to millions, “I have a dream,” not “I have a goal.” Goals may give focus, but dreams give power. Dreams expand the world.
If your company wants to grow, you’ll need leaders and, according to Steve Jobs, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” One way your leaders can evaluate creativity in their workplace environments is by using Right Path 4/6. This assessment tool gives each person a thorough understanding of how they’re hard-wired and how that can impact other team members.
Encourage your leaders and managers to cultivate a creative workplace environment and you’ll soon have plenty of both—leaders and creative ideas to fuel your company’s growth.