June 22, 2017 Focus area: Innovation & Growth

Are you ‘in-control’ of your creativity?

The importance of innovation has been widely accepted and organisations are searching for different ways boost innovation. To do this, companies need creative minds that create great ideas. So, where do we find these great minds? And if we can’t find them, can we perhaps ‘create’ them? These creative minds might already be working at your company but are hampered to use their creative minds effectively. The key question is, can managers unlock this creativity? As US president Obama likes to put it: ‘Yes, we can!’ 

How to kill creativity

Many companies tend to focus on the methods and head for the quick fix instead of understanding the main principles and understand the WHY behind certain frameworks. Simply putting a brown paper on the wall and calling it a Kanban does not make your company LEAN. Organising a Stand-Up every day does not make a company Agile, let alone stimulate creativity. Many managers also hold a rather narrow view of the creative process and tend to fall back on the good old command and control management style. This management style is in line with the critique of educationalist Ken Robinson about the education system. Robinson criticised the way educational institutions teach us not to make mistakes and therefore not try new things. By doing this institutions and managers are withholding us from being creative. 

What options do we have?

Multiple companies have started several initiatives to stimulate creativity and boost innovation. Companies are building innovation labs, adopting Agile frameworks such as Scrum, SAFe, Spotify or organise innovation days and hackathons on a regular basis. Some of the most well know examples are the 20% rule of Google and the ShipIt days at Atlassian. The 20% rule implies that all employees can spend 20% of their time on any project or initiative the like if they show the results at the end of the month. Atlassian organises once a quarter a ShipIt day, which enables all employees to spend 24 hours on whatever they want; with whoever they want as long as they show the results. Furthermore, companies such as Phillips, Cisco and TomTom have adopted the Scaled agile framework where an innovation sprint or hackathon is being organised at the end of each Product Increment. All these different methods that stimulate creativity and innovation are getting more traction, day by day. So, what is the success factor behind these different methods to stimulate creativity?

Unleash creativity! 

The essence of these success stories is that every problem is an opportunity for a creative solution. By stimulating people’s intrinsic motivation and combining this with the different perspectives of multiple individuals, great ideas arise. 

So, should we all work in tribes or Agile release trains? Should all companies, once a quarter, let all the employees spend 24 hours to do whatever they want, however they want? Maybe. What managers should do is grant employees sufficient autonomy to be human again, stop calling people resources and stop treating them like machines. Everyone has its unique set of capabilities but is essentially motivated by a generic set of driving forces: mastery, purpose and autonomy. Do not waste their talents by using command and control management and assume that you as a manager know everything. Let them be human and facilitate employees in mastering their skills and capabilities, evolve their talents, pursue a purpose and use this to the benefits of the company.

I like to compare creativity with arts or sports. If you want to learn to play tennis or learn to paint, you can acquire the necessary skills to do so. However, does this mean that everyone can become the next Roger Federer or Pablo Picasso as long as he or she tries really hard? I would like to think so but unfortunately that’s not the case. If companies and managers create environments that provide sufficient self-direction, sets clear goals, envision their purpose and facilitate employee in pursuing this purpose then people can become more creative. Picasso once said all people are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. If managers command and control employees and create an environment in which making mistakes is perceived as a bad thing, creativity cannot flourish. People are creative by nature. By letting the intelligence of each individual interact, everyone can project her or his unique perspective on a big harry problem, which just might be the next technological breakthrough.