MANY businesses are aware of the importance of creativity in the workplace. Creativity is the source of breakthroughs and often leads to profit-generating initiatives.

Contrary to popular belief, creativity is not an isolated act that produces a brilliant spark that translates into profit. The initial idea is usually just one step in a long arduous process that may stretch on for years.

To realise the potential of a creative idea, an organisation must have the structure and support in place for it to flourish and bring returns.

A business comprises different levels of processes and management.

Creativity must be present at all these levels to foster strong performance and breakthroughs.

In a nutshell, the director and the senior management team do not come up with all the ideas.

Rather, every single member of the organisation is encouraged to make suggestions. The leaders then sort through a mass of ideas to find the ones that fit into a coherent whole.

Accept uncertainties

To act in this fashion, executives have to resist natural tendencies to avoid or minimise risks.

To inculcate original ideas, people have to accept uncertainty, even when it is uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when the organisation takes a big risk and fails.

Rigorous feedback loop

The practice of working together as peers is key to a creative workplace. A regular discussion to obtain positive feedback is one way to foster an open environment.

While in most companies, only a small senior group would review the work progress of projects, it is possible to broaden participation to include the project team.

When people show work that is in an incomplete state to the whole team, the director may make decisions, but everyone should be encouraged to comment.

There are several benefits to this approach:

* First, once people get over the embarrassment of showing work still in progress, they become more creative.

* Second, the director guiding the review process can communicate important points to the entire team at the same time.

* Third, people learn from and inspire one another.

* Finally, there are no surprises at the end since everyone agrees on the final product.

The overwhelming desire of team members to make sure their work is "good" before they show it to others increases the possibility that their finished version will not be what the director wants. These feedback sessions can avoid such wasted efforts.

Alternative channel

Having an alternative communication channel recognises that the decision-making hierarchy and communication structure in organisations are two different things.

Members of any department should be able to approach anyone in another department to solve problems without having to go through "proper" channels.

It also means that managers need to learn that they do not always have to be the first to know about something going on in their department.

The impulse to control the process tightly is understandable given the complex nature of organisations.

Nevertheless, problems are almost by definition unforeseen. The most efficient way to deal with numerous problems is to trust people to work out the difficulties directly with one another without having to check for permission.

Everyone should offer ideas

An organisation should inculcate a culture of constantly showing works in progress internally.

Attendees of meetings are selected to ensure that there are people who can contribute fresh perspectives and ideas.

Everyone in the company, regardless of discipline or position, gets to contribute his ideas.

A concerted effort can be made to ensure that criticism is accepted by allowing attendees to e-mail additional ideas to the project managers.

Ultimately, creativity in service offerings has to reside with the organisation's leadership.

This is often not the case in many companies. It is my firm belief that the creative vision propelling each move has to come from the entire organisation - whether they are corporate executives or a development department - and not from one or two people.

The guiding philosophy in many successful companies boils down to a few fundamental principles: Hire creative people, give them enormous leeway and support, and provide them with an environment in which they can get honest feedback from everyone.