Getting started on creativity is difficult as 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, while innovation refers to creativity applied to a particular end, namely, to produce tangible value for stakeholders. Thankfully, just like muscles, both can be strengthened with some training.
Here are three strategies to foster creativity. Just remember the acronym GYM:
G-enerate 10 Ideas
Akin to how muscles develop, 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.
Bestselling 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 Bestselling Book", it does not matter if the last few ideas you think of 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 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 of the exercise does not matter so much as its regularity. More importantly, 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 his or her shoes. The same applies for your customers. Too many companies merely treat their customers as abstract numbers on a spreadsheet.
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 the ability to be creative 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-focused, but few implement this value with sincerity and skill. Differentiate your company from the competition by implementing an anthropologist research practice called Sensemaking.
This involves deciding what questions you would need answered about the customers, before asking your employees to observe them. Airbnb is famous for offering their new hires paid staycations via their platform to experience a customer's journey. You can consider similar strategies to generate 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 realised.
After your employees return with raw data from customer observation, it is vital that the management take efforts to integrate their findings. Generate findings using the Sensemaking approach, compile them, then streamline or merge the results. 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 is especially crucial in obtaining employee buy-in, as a visible result for their efforts is one of the best forms of employee motivation.
Fostering creativity and innovation is a long-haul process. Any companies looking for quick fixes are in for a sore disappointment. It will take management willpower to implement the above strategies, but if employers truly value customer feedback, then it is more of a risk not to implement them.
Article contributed by Seah Ying Cong, a communications and creativity expert with Training Edge International.
Find out how to lift the lid on creativity at the “Fostering Innovation: Practical Strategies to Encourage Creativity” workshop organised by STJobs. Find out more at stjobs.sg/seminar.