Creativity is the life blood of any organization. It’s what ensures the continuous innovation necessary to help a company stay ahead in a competitive world.

But creativity is not a process that always happens by itself. In a working environment that is not designed to promote and stimulate creative thinking, employees might be hesitant or even afraid to offer their ideas. Your organization might be missing out on a wealth of ideas that will promote growth simply because the right culture for creative thinking doesn’t exist.

To avoid this, you need to create a work environment that allows for novel ideas to be born and developed. As a person in any position of leadership within an organization, there are four key areas that should be addressed.

1. Establish clear goals, but let your employees find their way to reach them.

The people working for you have to be intrigued by and interested in what they are doing in order to be motivated and have an open mind towards improving the projects they are working on.
This can’t be achieved if you are always looking over their shoulder and trying to micro-manage every small detail, not allowing any freedom in decision-making.  People tend to become hesitant, uncomfortable and even unconfident about their work in these kind of environments, which leads to little creativity and a lost opportunity to find new innovations as a project progresses.

2. Monitor their work, but remain at a distance.

When your team is working to achieve the goals set out for them, you should keep tabs on how they are progressing, but never go overboard.

There’s a thin line between being interested in their progress and intruding on their personal working approaches or trying to do their job for them. Allow them the freedom to work at their own pace, and try not to force any methods. Listen to what they need and help them overcome any hurdles they might face while progressing.

Careful and thought-out advice might be very helpful and will help evolve ideas, but over intruding can lead to stunted creativity.

3. Make your team’s job easier, not harder.

If you want to maintain good morale and a positive outlook among your staff, be wary of criticising and controlling their efforts too much. It’s better to support their creative processes—provide them with the tools necessary and help “sell” their work to other departments, if that is needed.

This all serves to remove as many hurdles from their progress as possible, helping them to achieve their goals as fast as possible. It also enhances their confidence, knowing that their manager or superior is behind them and their ideas.

Try to be their advocate in the organization—you have the tools to make their work easier so that they can focus on the project at hand and not worry too much about structural obstacles and issues.

4. Create and separate idea-generation and idea-evaluation processes.

Both creating and evaluating ideas are paramount to the innovation process, so there are key steps that need to be taken in order to achieve success. Don’t make the common mistake of mixing idea generation and idea evaluation. This can have a detrimental effect on the innovation process.These two must be separated because they are completely different processes.

Idea generation is a process that has to focus on quantity—at this stage, there are no bad ideas. Simply put, it’s better to have fifteen ideas to choose from than five. Additionally, if an idea is shut down at its early stages, it is not given a chance to develop into a potential breakthrough solution.

Idea evaluation process is quite different—it focuses on working with the pool of generated ideas and evaluating their positives and negatives, trying to figure out if an idea is feasible and is compliant to the company’s resources, policies and long-term goals.

In order to achieve a creative environment in a company, leaders must acknowledge the importance of the input of their employees and always look for ways to help them generate and develop new ideas. Even if some level of oversight must be maintained, employees should be given as much freedom as possible to work towards achieving set goals using their own methods and should be encouraged to do so.

After all, a well-developed creative environment is what helps distinguish average companies from the best. In the long run, having a well defined system to ensure that employees come up with innovations is critical for a company in any competitive marketplace.

Featured photo credit: Kerry Jardine via flickr.com

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