According to Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, the 21st century marks the Conceptual Age. While analytical, left-brain knowledge workers reigned during the Information Age, the Conceptual Age is seeing a rise of right-brain workers with a unique capacity for creativity, intuition and innovation.
Fashion designers and digital media specialists often say “everything is a concept” and the same may be true now for workplaces and projects in today’s digital creative economy. Ideas drive businesses, boost productivity, create economic value and transform social lives. Organizational adaptation and long-term survival in the Conceptual Age heavily depends on creativity and innovation. As a result, businesses are looking for contemporary leaders with innovative ideas and strong e-leadership skills in digital adoption processes for e-commerce, social media marketing, product development, profitability and reduction in operational expenses.
Innovation is not something you buy, it is something you cultivate. Most creative activities within a business are usually the result of an organizational culture of innovation, an individual drive for invention and a capacity to embrace uncertainties and failures. So, how can business leaders boost creativity and innovation in the workplace?
- Cultivate a culture of support: Your company’s cultural atmosphere should be a positive and rewarding one. It should promote diversity and encourage collaboration rather than competition among team members. An environment where co-workers care for each other prepares psychological conditions for creativity, such as engagement with positive morale and motivation to innovate. Team members with strong prosocial motivations use participative decision making and value shared social identity and collective rewards.
- Boost organizational commitment: It is important that individuals and teams understand and internalize the vision of the organization and share the company’s innovation-driven perspective. Once individuals are committed to the goals of the organization, alienation between one’s cognitive effort for innovation and the actual productivity outcomes of the organization will be minimal.
- Promote intrinsic motivation: Avoid top-down processes. People who love what they do can better innovate when they find their journey self-rewarding and meaningful; they personally grow with the process of innovation. Innovative individuals enjoy an internal sense of mastery, hence it is important to promote a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the workplace.
- Quantity breeds quality: Brainstorming sessions aim to produce a maximum number of ideas for an increased probability of a bright idea at the end. In addition to generating ideas, these brainwriting activities can inspire further thinking, researching, and creativity. Consider boosting right-brain activity by letting irrational, emotional, unpredictable and slightly uninhibited ideas be on the table.
- Challenge thinking styles: Encourage rational thinkers to think intuitively and intuitive thinkers to think rationally. Experts say the creative problem solving process has four distinct stages: idea generation, conceptualization of product, optimization, and implementation. The first stage, idea generation, may be a result of emotional and restless discontent from the current state-of-affairs. It can create a strong motivation to innovate and the results may be disruptive. Right-brain thinking often generates quality ideas; however, implementing them often requires a dose of rational thinking to properly achieve results.
- Mix things up: Changing your physical location within an office or even working outside the office may alter and inspire new perspectives. Similarly, job swaps and exchanging assignments can stimulate alternative ways of thinking. Inviting people from outside your organization to participate in idea-generation sessions can also enrich your brainstorming results. Change and novelty should be welcomed and discussed.
- Eliminate blame culture: Anxiety-free exploration (idea flight) happens when employees know there is a secure base to return (trusted colleagues). Evaluation of ideas as good or bad can be delayed.
- Recognize and reward: When individuals or teams innovate, recognize their work and reward it. Publicize the achievement, write a personal thank you note, or give a medal or trophy award.
- Execute the project and embrace any possibility: Once ideas are generated and concepts are developed, don’t delay optimization and implementation. Anticipate failures and prepare for them as part of the process. Failures should be embraced as lessons learned that will serve future generations of ideas.
Following these tips can encourage innovation at any scale, within any industry. Take Nuance Communications, as an example. Naunce produces natural language understanding and other intelligent systems of the 21st Century and has made innovation a part of its fabric through a culture of collaboration. It hosts external researchers, organizes internal conferences, organizes hackathons and brainstorming sessions, and also invites developers to solve challenging artificial intelligence paradigms.
There is a lesson here for small businesses: don’t be afraid to explore paths to collaborate on idea generation, design and development, and synergy creation. Doing so may broaden the boundaries of your marketplace and can help you foster a greater number of emerging ideas, new concepts and successful innovations.
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