How to improve your organisation’s creative and innovative thinking

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How to improve your organisation’s creative and innovative thinking

Developing the capacity of your organisation to foster creative and innovative thinking is a different process from developing that capacity in an individual. Instead it involves negotiating the many aspects of an organisation – especially a large one – that work against creative and innovative thinking. Here is an outline of how to do so.


Balance the tension between efficiency, bureaucracy and creativity

The bureaucratic procedures and policies often involved in getting an idea off the ground can limit its creative and innovative potential. Clay Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, described the stifling nature of bureaucratic hurdles: “You’re not into it two weeks before you hear from sales or finance or engineering that they will block it unless you change it to fit their needs,” he said. “These powerful constituencies inside the company collectively beat things into a shape that more closely conforms to the existing business model rather than to the opportunity in the market.”

The solution is not immediately clear – these policies and procedures are usually in place for a good reason and function to ensure that undercooked ideas don’t get rolled out too quickly and without sufficient stake-holder contribution. The answer may be in resisting applying too many protocols or procedures to the initial idea development stage, and use them only later in the implementation stage. There needs to be an organisational recognition that idea development is inherently messy and not always perfectly efficient, and that is okay.

Make sure there is diversity of thought

In The Medici Effect, author Frans Johansson writes that innovation is more likely when people of different disciplines, backgrounds, and areas of expertise share their thinking. Even within the mind of an individual, diversity enhances creativity, according to a study by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, of the University of Michigan, his colleague Fiona Lee, and Chi-Ying Cheng of Columbia University. The study found that identity integration – the ability of individuals to draw on their mixed backgrounds – can lead to enhanced creative performance. Lee stated: “Increasing creativity and innovation at work is a holy grail for organizations. Companies that have the ability to bring together people from diverse backgrounds and draw upon all of their insights and experiences will have a distinct advantage in the global market place.”

While this is something that can be actively managed by an individual leader by widening the group of employees involved in a particular task or discussion, if there is not much diversity within the workplace to begin with, there is little an individual manager can do. This is why workplace-wide diversity friendly policies must be in place, particularly regarding hiring.

In this same vein, there is real value in looking outside the organisation for ideas. Collaborations, partnerships, forums or simply contact with organisations, groups and individuals with different skill sets, offerings, portions of the market or different organisational structures can facilitate greater creative and innovative thinking.


Manage the hierarchy

Allowing creative and innovative thought to flourish cannot happen exclusively with a top-down strategy. Organisations must recognise that some of the best innovation will not come from management but from the employees. For example, Google’s founders tracked the progress of ideas that they had backed versus ideas that had been executed in the ranks without support from above, and discovered a higher success rate in the latter category.

As leaders look beyond the top ranks for creative direction, they must combat what Diego Rodriguez, a partner at IDEO and the leader of its Palo Alto, California, office, calls the “lone inventor myth.” Though past breakthroughs sometimes have come from a single genius, the reality today is that most innovations draw on many contributions.


Use the Charrette procedure

When an idea-generating session has numerous related issues or numerous stakeholders, simple brainstorming is often inadequate and messy. One solution is the Charrette Procedure which allows for maximum participation in idea generation, without compromising the quality or effectiveness of the brainstorming.

The exercise works by dividing the larger group into smaller groups of roughly five people, with the number dependent on the number of ideas discussed. Each group is assigned one topic to brainstorm and collect ideas and feedback. These generated ideas are moved to another group to build on top of, they contribute to the topic with more analysis and brainstorming. The topic keeps moving until it is discussed by each of the groups and the final ideas are collected, analysed, organised, and prioritised to reach final solutions for the discussed topic. If there are a number of topics to discuss, then topic notes can be circulated simultaneously among the groups.

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