Fostering Creativity

Getting started on creativity is difficult. It is a mental muscle rarely exercised on a daily basis. This is why many companies struggle when it comes to fostering creativity amongst their employees.

It is important to distinguish between creativity and innovation in business. General creativity refers to one's ability to think up new ideas, whereas innovation refers to creativity applied to a particular end, namely to produce tangible value for the stakeholders. Thankfully, just like muscles, both can be strengthened with training and conditioning.

Here are 3 strategies to foster creativity, which you can remember as GYM.

G-enerate 10 Ideas

Akin to how muscles develop through tearing, creativity muscles are strengthened by being pushed to the limit. You have to feel like you are sweating in the brain when developing your creativity.

Best-selling author James Altucher recommends the daily exercise of generating 10 ideas for a random topic so as to push your creativity to its limit. In this exercise, the key is not quality but quantity.

For instance, if the topic of the day is "10 Ways to Write a Best-Selling Book", it does not matter if your 8th to 10th ideas are unfeasible. What matters is that you complete the exercise. The last few ideas that you come up with is considered the pain period, where you witness the greatest gains in creativity.

Over time, you will find that you come up with new ideas more and more easily, until your creativity becomes a tap that simply flows. It has been said that the secret of creative geniuses is not so much that they are adept at generating great ideas, but rather that they think up so many ideas that some of them are bound to be world-changing.

At your workplace, you can implement this as a regular exercise for your employees. The frequency does not matter so much so as regularity. More vitally, you would need to gain buy-in from your employees on this practice, as fluidity is the friend of creativity, and you cannot force fluidity.

Y-ou Are The Customer

There is an old saying that you cannot truly understand a person unless you have walked a mile in their shoes. The same applies for your customers. Too many companies treat their customers as abstract numbers on a spreadsheet, and thereby slowly loses touch with them.

This is where the next step towards innovation comes in. Once the foundation for creativity is established with the 10-Idea practice, the company will have an easier time transitioning to innovation. To convert this general creativity ability into tangible business value, the company management has to home in the employees' focus on the customers.

No company would deny that they are customer focussed, but few implement this value with sincerity and skill. How your company can differentiate from the competition is by implementing an anthropologist research practice called sensemaking.

This involves deciding what questions you would need answered about the customers, before dispatching your employees out to observe your customers. Airbnb is famous for offering their new hires paid staycations via their platform to experience a customer's journey. You can consider similar strategies for engendering empathy for customers.

M-ix and Match

The final step of the innovation strategy is also the most important. This is where the business value of creativity is actually realized.

After your employees return with raw data from customer observation, it is vital that the management take efforts to integrate their findings back into the business.

This is where the findings of sensemaking can be compiled by the employees involved, and then either streamlined or merged. Frequently, the best ideas are the results of several half-baked ones combined.

Eventually, the management will have to promptly act on the ideas and demonstrate the results to the employees. This last piece is especially crucial in obtaining employee buy-in, as visible results for their efforts is one of the best forms of motivation.

Fostering creativity and innovation is a long haul. Any companies looking for quick fixes are in for a sore disappointment. It will take management willpower to implement the above strategies, but if they truly value customer feedback as they claim, then it is more of a risk not to implement them.

Seah Ying Cong

Old soul in an older body.

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