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Apr 26, 2013

You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — André Gide, French author (winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947).

While the business environment requires a certain level of built-in routine in order to maximize productivity, that doesn’t mean you can’t have creative fun at work.

Remember what Peter Drucker taught us: “The business enterprise has two — and only two — basic functions: marketing and innovation.”

So what does that have to do with creativity? Just this: when you reduce it to its essentials, innovation is creativity.

How to spark innovative thinking

Innovation facilitates the agility and flexibility all organizations require to survive. So how can you increase innovation in your organization? Let’s look at a few possibilities.

  1. Foster an open, creative work environment. To foster creativity, some companies provide workers with snacks, games, and “time off” during work hours. Google allows developers to work on their own projects one full day per week. Among other things, this has resulted in nifty services like Google News — so obviously, the approach works. You may not be able to offer that much freedom, but at least you can encourage communication, a positive attitude, and a low-stress environment. All these can support the greater mental flexibility and unshackled thought that result in profitable innovation. Team bonding events like retreats can also work, as long as you don’t make them competitive or stressful.
  2. Motivate your team. Positive reinforcement in the form of rewards, bonuses, special privileges, comp time, and prizes will keep people on their toes. Not everyone will participate, but many will when they see their efforts have clear benefits.
  3. Encourage diversity. A wide range of working styles, thought processes, and viewpoints is essential to avoiding groupthink, where a homogenized team loses the ability to see solutions obvious to outsiders. Innovation can only grow in a well-fertilized field. Rather than stunt its growth, find ways to encourage interaction and the exchange of ideas. Break down information silos between teams by getting them together to exchange ideas. Bring in speakers from outside to offer alternate perspectives. The cross-fertilization that results will blossom into ideas you can profit from.
  4. Provide the proper tools. Carpenters can’t do their jobs with hammers alone; they also need saws, levels, planes, drills, and miter boxes. Make sure your people get the tools they need: computers, software, education, or training.
  5. Create innovation teams. Build teams comprised of members with diverse working styles, experience, and skill-sets, whose primary purpose is to get together to innovate. I’ve seen this done as a full-time role or one or two days a week. Although some claim spontaneity goes out the window with such teams, solid communal thought, bantering, and brainstorming can result in surprising innovations.
  6. Don’t penalize. To be truly innovative, you must risk failure. That’s just part of the creative mindset, since you fail more often than you succeed. If your team members fear punishment if their initiatives fail, why should they even try? Always provide a suggestion box, so employees can contribute anonymously. Even in an open environment, some people prefer confidentiality.

Hold that line!

While you may be doing fine without innovation right now, at best you’re in a holding pattern. Someday, a more innovative player will knock you down a peg…and possibly out of the game altogether.

You’ve heard the saying “grow or die.” Nowhere does this hold truer than in the business arena. Even if you provide an absolute necessity, like toilet paper or chocolate, someone can nibble on the edges of your market share with innovative marketing style or new ideas.

Don’t let them! Get out there and innovate like crazy.

This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.

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