Is Your Business Killing Creativity?
How to Cultivate Breakthrough Innovation
By Scott Jeffrey
today’s hyper-connected, ludicrously-fast-moving global marketplace,
businesses are racing to grow big – and fast. Wall Street and
private investors alike demand double-digit growth year after year.
business owners and executives fail to realize growth results
because they haven’t set the right conditions. Profitability and
customer loyalty are consequences of a business’s commitment to
evolve, innovate and exceed their customers’ expectations.
Ironically, a focus on obsessive growth can often stifle innovation,
the lifeblood of a business’ growth and expansion. Just ask
companies like Apple, Google, Netflix or any company that thrives in
a competitive landscape. Or talk to Microsoft, Yahoo and Blockbuster
to learn how the aforementioned competitors have trampled their
market share and left them irrelevant to their former customers.
Proctor & Gamble: In 2000, the company issued several profit
warnings, sending the stock tumbling to half its value. A.G. Lafley
arrives as the new chairman and CEO and shifts their focus to
customer-centered innovations. Profits tripled and P&G is now one of
the most valuable companies in America.
Conducting “business as usual” is a surefire way to make your
business obsolete. Innovation and growth requires unbridled
creativity to innovate, solve problems and create a fabulous
customer experience, which in turn requires the proper inner and
outer conditions to manifest. We must learn to eliminate the
barriers to rapid creative innovation. Here are five lessons
businesses must learn to unleash creativity and innovation in the
Lesson 1: Create an atmosphere where people are inspired to succeed
rather than afraid to fail: Failure is a necessary aspect of
invention (just ask Thomas Edison), but the fear of failure blocks
the creative impulse. If employees are afraid of making mistakes,
you can be sure that creativity will be stifled.
fearful state, the brain toggles to the more primitive lizard brain
(responsible for basic life functions like digestion, respiration
and reproduction) for survival, rendering access to the more evolved
learning brain (responsible for memory, problem-solving,
communication and creativity) impossible. Abraham Maslow, the
founder of humanistic psychology, observed that creativity arises as
a consequence of a positive mental state. When employees are happy
and secure, you’re more likely to see an increase in creative
contribution. Amy Edmondson, Novartis professor of leadership and
management at Harvard Business School, found that the optimal
learning environment combines a high degree of psychological safety
with accountability for meeting demanding goals. When employees feel
safe, they are more likely to collaborate and learn on the job.
business cultures cultivate environments that embrace failure as the
precursor to success. Fail, but fail quickly and move on. One of
Southwest Airlines’ secrets to more than 30 years of profitability
is memorialized by their motto, “Risk More, Fail Faster.” Many
times, failure is the gateway to a breakthrough idea. Instead of
sweeping failure under the rug, realize its value.
Lesson 2: Track performance by innovative contribution rather than
time on the clock: Why should we track how many hours employees
spend at their desks, when what we’re really interested in is their
success at innovating, making customers happy and growing the
business? In a global marketplace, the concept of nine-to-five is
almost meaningless. We are interested in outcomes, not time clocks –
in results, not efficiency. One can be efficiently busy yet
ineffective at achieving results.
person needs different conditions for creating. Some people prefer
working from home; others prefer working at night. Realizing that
some guidelines are needed, how flexible are you willing to become
in the pursuit of a stronger, more profitable business? Financial
service provider The Motley Fools offers unlimited vacation
time as long as employees “do an amazing job” and meet deadlines.
Lesson 3: Focus on allowing instead of doing: Our
Western culture is busy. In fact, corporate America has mistaken
busyness with business. With an onslaught of e-mails,
text messages, phone calls and meetings, there’s no shortage of
busyness, always something to do. Little of our daily
communication supports the creative process, which tends to favor
allowing over doing. You’ve probably experienced a great
idea popping into mind as you’ve aimlessly walked through the woods,
showered or cruised the highway.
your employees space to wander, play and create – even on
non-work-related activities. Google engineers, for example, spend 20
percent of their time working on whatever they want. Google trusts
their talented employees to build useful and innovative things –
some of which will become new projects in their Google Labs.
Lesson 4: Create an environment that lifts your employees’ spirits
rather than drains their energy: Conditions in the workplace
should support positive, creative thinking. Most office space feels
dead and lifeless. If you don’t create an environment where people
enjoy working, how can you expect them to perform at their best?
headquarters has a dedicated meditation room. Google offers healthy,
organic cuisine prepared by a gourmet chef. Check out high-rated
companies from Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work
For” and model their successful environments.
has demonstrated that fluorescent lighting collapses the body’s
acupuncture meridians and hampers the brain’s ability to think
clearly. Replacing fluorescent lighting with full-spectrum, natural
bulbs can actually affect the bottom line. Surround the workspace
with plants to infuse more life into the environment. Be aware of
wall colors, mounted pictures and paintings, and the use of floor
space. All of these factors affect the environment’s appeal.
inspiration, check out the “About Us” pages of your favorite,
innovative companies’ Web sites.
Lesson 5: Foster creative collaboration rather than “just getting it
done”: Innovative companies understand that optimal business
growth is directly connected to harmonious teams. If you’re focusing
on policies, mechanics or systems of business instead of your people
and the customers you serve, you’re bypassing the heart and soul of
your business. Without positive emotion and heartfelt connection,
the power of creativity is stifled.
businesses support group collaboration and the free exchange of
ideas. Consider creating a “idea room” with whiteboards, comfortable
chairs, fun music, healthy snacks, creative décor, even juggling
balls. Team members use the brain room to hold brainstorming
sessions or problem-solving collaborations. The highly innovative
Brazilian company Semco, run by maverick Ricardo Semler, has an “Out
of Your Mind!” committee that meets periodically to consider unusual
ideas that aren’t relevant to their existing business. Providing a
safe forum for employees to share their “crazy ideas” in an open and
supportive environment can pave the way to extraordinary
fun, be creative, innovate, and watch your business grow!
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