As globalization tears down geographic boundaries and market barriers, a company’s ability to innovate by tapping fresh, creative, valuable ideas from employees and customers will allow it to reach its full potential.
In May 2010, IBM released findings from a global survey of more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide. The survey found that 60 percent of CEOs believe that – more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision – successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity. Leaders can apply practical ways to shake up ingrained perceptions of individuals in teams and enhance such creativity.
“Creativity needs to be given space to grow, but that doesn’t mean individuals and teams should be completely left to their own devices or are untouchable,” said Richard Bates, chief creative officer for global brand agency The Brand Union. “A creative environment is a nurturing environment. The role of creative leadership is to inspire, curate and moderate while allowing the freedom and space to discover unexpected solutions.”
The same IBM study states that although company leaders in the U.S. bring more integrity on the job than their foreign competitors, they also expect much more government regulation. Eight-seven percent of CEOs surveyed anticipate greater government oversight and regulation over the next five years, while only 70 percent of CEOs in Europe, 50 percent in Japan and 53 percent in China hold this opinion. On the other hand, 61 percent of CEOs in China view global thinking as a top leadership quality, while just 31 percent of CEOs in North America and Europe agree.
“Everybody in the business world operates in a reality where competitors have access to the same technology, same information and same kinds of research,” said Daniel Goleman, author of The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights. “It’s how you put that together in innovative ways that makes the competitive difference. Putting together that puzzle can’t be forced or regulated. You have to create the circumstances that foster it, that allow it and encourage it, but you can’t order someone to be creative or expect them to be creative under your watch.”
A best practice here is giving employees an open environment to play in. Google’s 20 percent time is a well-known part of the company’s philosophy. This enables engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in their job descriptions. Employees use the time to develop something new or fix something that’s broken. Several of Google’s most successful projects have their origins in 20 percent time, including Gmail, Google News and the Google shuttle buses that bring people to work at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
In order to shake up ingrained perceptions and enhance creativity, leaders should generate new ways to tackle problems to break free of pre-existing views by challenging deep-rooted company orthodoxies and generate teams that promote diversity of thought.
“Language and perspective play a large role in a team’s ability to find exceptional creative solutions,” Bates said. “Ten people brainstorming in a room, all with the same background, training and point of view, are bound by a common language, which can make for a quick shorthand and can facilitate fast and easy solutions. Ten people brainstorming in a room, all with diverse backgrounds from different – but possibly related – disciplines each have their own professional language, their own frame of reference. Without the comfort of a common language, each person must work harder to communicate their ideas to the group. They are forced to find new ways of communicating, which leads to new thoughts and ideas. The diverse team has the potential to discover more unexpected and richer solutions than the homogeneous group.”
Creativity has become a core driver of growth, performance and valuation, and it’s up to leaders to develop this innovation both personally and with their direct reporters and broader teams.
“The spark of great ideas is usually born in an individual, then the appropriate disciplines within the group need to come together, use what they know, figure out how to get past obstacles, and challenge themselves, specifically their creativity, to imagine solutions smarter than they have before and better than is expected or even asked of them,” Bates said. “Companies need to constantly challenge employees and create an environment where those around have high expectations for every other employee. Imagine coming to work every day in an environment where everyone feels the same sense of purpose and desire to not just meet expectations, but also surpass them.”
Ladan Nikravan is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.