4 Strategies to Corporate Creativity

As Pablo Picasso famously said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once [s]he grows up.” However, many experiences throughout adolescence and early adulthood sap our creativity. After years as an individual contributor or line-level manager, driven by operationally-focused KPIs lacking much free thought, employees find themselves promoted to leadership roles requiring strategic thinking and innovation. With decades since they last engaged in genuine curiosity, these newly appointed leaders are ill-prepared to succeed due to a lack of creativity.

How might leaders re-energize their corporate culture with defined opportunities to express curiosity, to rekindle the creativity of its employees, and to reward “walking the talk” of innovation?

Innovate on the Clock

A corporate orthodoxy from a recent client was, “if you’re not at your desk, you’re not working.” Thus, employees invented tasks to fill their “9 to 5” rather than exploring new opportunities to stave off industry disruption. Paradoxically, our research shows organizations offering defined time for creativity see an improvement in operational metrics! The desire to pursue their passion projects led to increased efficiency in employees’ day-to-day functions.

Beginner’s Mindset

When we start from a place of “not knowing,” we are forced to ask questions that lead to more clearly defined problems. Confidently allow employees to explore outside of your purview by encouraging client visits by non-sales employees, enable staff to work from other branches to cross-pollinate best practices, and hire facilitators to aggregate candid feedback from middle management and most importantly, act on their suggestions.

 
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Empathy is the Default

We chuckle when leaders talk about, “practicing empathy.” If they hired a diversity of experiences and welcomed unvarnished perspectives, empathy implicitly becomes part of the culture and conflicts decrease.

One of our clients runs a call center. While we understand the operational value of meeting KPIs such as calls answered per hour and hold times, customers want their problem solved even it takes a minute longer. Where corporate policies meet (and conflict with) user expectations, call center employees are the embodiment of empathy. Why are these workers not coaching senior leadership to embody such a vital skill?

Model Creativity

What is your reaction to a new idea? Do you default to “yes, but,” referencing your years of industry experience as justification or simply say, “tell me more,” followed by a “yes, and!”

A senior executive at a client firm recounted sharing a new product segmentation idea with the CEO, who responded suggesting the idea again would, “jeopardize [his] future with the company.”

A culture of curiosity, which instinctively asks questions when faced with new situations, leads to a greater breadth of solutions.

Fostering a creative corporate culture begins at the top. Create space for innovation in an employee’s “9 to 5”. Listen to their innovative ideas with a beginner’s mindset of curiosity. Finally, model creativity. Do not rely on your “years of experience” as your north star. Welcome a diversity of opinions to form better questions, which leads to better solutions.