Leading with Character: Creativity

March 20, 2016
Mike Stallard

Definition of Creativity

Creativity is thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things.

Why Creativity Matters

Creativity is essential for innovation. Exercising creativity to continuously improve by finding new and better ways of serving clients is something we must always strive to do. An organization that settles for the status quo will never be a great organization. For that reason, we must never allow our organizations to become complacent. One of our ongoing goals must be to continuously make the world better by improving what we do. Exercising creativity is essential to this task.

Unfortunately, we don’t drift toward creativity and innovation. It requires intentionality in several ways. First, we must recognize the need to foster a team approach to creativity and innovation. Although the media likes to glorify the lone creative genius, a closer look at creativity reveals that it is, to a large degree, a team sport. Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors of all time, readily admitted that he drew upon ideas from many people. Edison once said, “I am quite correctly described as 'more of a sponge than an inventor....’”

Second, we need to recognize that creativity flourishes in an environment where the Connection Culture element of Knowledge Flow (or “Voice”) exists. When people are intentional about improving what they do, when they seek the ideas of others, when they share their ideas and opinions honestly, and when they safeguard relational connections, it creates a robust marketplace of ideas that feeds creative minds.

Note that several character strengths contribute to increase the element of Voice in an environment that stimulates creativity. These character strengths include curiosity, love of learning, humility, open-mindedness, persistence and an appreciation of beauty and excellence. People who possess these character strengths persist in coming up with ideas drawn from the knowledge they've gained as a result of their curiosity to learn and to improve upon their work product and processes.

Third, creativity and innovation increase when certain processes and practices are in place. A simple example is a suggestion box where people are invited to submit ideas. Here are several ways to become more intentional about exercising creativity to innovate and identify new products, processes and approaches that improve your organization.

Examples of Creativity in Action

Dolland & Aitchison, an optician and spectacle retailer, believed that “every idea is a good idea.” Employees are encouraged to write directly to the CEO with their ideas. They receive a written response from the CEO and if their idea is implemented they also receive a “thank-you” gift. An example of such an idea is “Styleyes” a computer aided system, pairing customers with ideal frames to fit appearance and lifestyle. Result: Increase in customer satisfaction, increase in customer spending and an annual sales increase of 17 percent.

At 3M, they have an Entrepreneurial Policy which allows employees to spend up to 15 percent of their time at work developing their own creative ideas for the betterment of the company and the creation of new products or services. Subsequently, 3M was able to capitalize on the creative ideas to create and launch the 3M Post-it Note product. Result: The 3 M Post-it Note is one of their most successful and popular products.

At Ritz-Carlton Hotels, each department has a white board where people are expected to write down ideas for their teams to consider in upcoming team meetings. This has fostered a culture of creativity and innovation where people are continuously looking for ways to improve what they do. Result: Ritz-Carton is consistently recognized as one of the top performing hotel companies worldwide. It is a perennial winner of awards for quality and customer service.

Actions You Can Take to Develop Creativity Among Your Team

Encourage, respect and reward new thinking. It takes courage for your team members to bring up a new idea or a fresh perspective. By making sure that you are open to new ideas, and that you suspend judgment during the idea generation phase, you’ll be encouraging people to think about things a little differently. Take it a little further and encourage your team to build on and explore each other’s ideas, even the ones that might sound a little odd at first. Dismissing ideas too soon is a sure way of losing the best solutions and suppressing creative thinking. And remember to recognize people for their contributions and ideas.

Believe in the capabilities your team. Expect the best from your team, keep your expectations high yet realistic and your team will be inspired to perform at their best. In terms of creativity, a group is more likely to come up with innovative solutions if you believe they can. Just remember your optimism needs to be realistic, so raise the bar for top performance one step at a time.

Try the "six hats" technique. The "six hats" technique involves looking at a problem from six differing perspectives. By doing this, you’ll produce more ideas than you might have had you only looked at the situation from one or two points of view.

  1. White Hat: Look at the situation objectively. What are the facts?
  2. Yellow Hat: Use a positive perspective. Which elements of the solution will work?
  3. Black Hat: Use a negative perspective. Which elements of the solution won’t work?
  4. Red Hat: Look at the situation emotionally. What do your feelings tell you?
  5. Green Hat: Think creatively. What are some alternative ideas?
  6. Blue Hat: Think broadly. What is the best overall solution?

Consciously build diverse teams. Diversity of backgrounds, thinking and experience and is the key to creativity. Allowing your team to express themselves and share based on their diverse backgrounds will ensure that they’re considering many options, many of which would not have been considered if they investigated the issues in isolation. Even if the diverse backgrounds drive a little “Creative Abrasion” it will result in positive outputs as you’ve provided a safe, respectful environment where people feel comfortable with each other.

Have fun. When our bodies are active, tensions are released and we are more able to let our minds take leaps of faith. For this purpose, have plenty of toys that require physical activity in your office environment. Things like balls and board games will change your team’s routine, get their blood moving, and result in a flow of ideas.

More From Michael Lee Stallard

Grassroots Innovation Contributed to WWII Victory

Leading with Character: Social Intelligence

Leading with Character: Humility

Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of Connection Culture Group, speaks, teaches and consults on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blogTwitterFacebookGoogle+ or LinkedIn.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Steve Wilson under Creative Commons license Attribution 2.0 Generic. Image has been cropped. 

You may also like

Join the conversation