Unleash Your Creative Potential
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COMMUNICATION DIRECTORM a g a z i n e f o r C o r p o r a t e C o m m u n i c a t i o n s a n d P u b l i c R e l a t i o n s
COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR 04/2010
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I ts 10 am at the company offices. Employees are busy with emergencies of their own, each one working on his or her own problems, and does so as efficiently as possible. Or at least that is what they believe.Although these people feel they are using their creative skills to solve problems in the best possible way, the truth is that there are several factors that pre-de-fine the way they do it. Perhaps the two most influential factors are:
- Customs: For a long time the employee (and those who have held similar positions in previous years) has solved problems in a similar way and has been successful. This predisposes a repetition of a standard solution which has already proven to be effective. This constitutes what is known as the experi-ence of the individual.
- The process: When someone joins a company, they usually prepare for their new position through a training process. During the training, the new employee is informed about the style of the organisation and the different processes by which the organisation carries out its activities. These processes constitute the basis of quality and provide a framework for internal relations, and everyone knows what to expect from colleagues. The processes can be considered as the experi-ence of the company.
Although the different experiences provide the necessary efficiency for any organisation to be competitive, they are often an obstacle to the emergence of revolutionary ideas that radically change the way an organisation has been op-
Accessing and harnessing the creative impulse of your team should reap rewards in every direction. Here are just a few suggestions of how to cultivate new ways of thinking at work.
by Guillermo Solano
erating and provide a real advantage against its competitors. These expe-riences inhibit innovation.
BUT WHAT IS INNOVATION? Many organisations seek to gain new customers with amazing prod-ucts. Others want to find new ways to solve key problems in any of their internal processes. Others seek to re-solve challenges about the environ-ment, or about wealth distribution. To achieve these strategic objectives, organisations must find a viable path; this means that they must find the brilliant idea that their competi-tors lack. They must show their crea-tive capacity.
For many companies, innovation is the key to business growth. An in-novative product or service provides a powerful combination: the charm of novelty, which attracts customers, and the exclusivity, which creates a convenient temporary monopoly.
But innovation does not only ap-ply to products and services, many companies base their competitive advantage on innovative processes. From the productive innovations of Ford at the beginning of last cen-tury to the innovative distribution
UNLEASH YOURCREATIVE POTENTIAL
04/2010 COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR
system of Zara at the beginning of the current century, innovations in processes have been the key to the success of many of the most emblem-atic companies. Ideally, an innovative company is capable of displaying its creative capacity in all aspects of its operation. As a result, in recent years many organisations have sought ways to stimulate creative thinking in their employees. They want the creativity to be applied to everything from the solution of everyday problems to the development of revolutionary product concepts. Some of the actions that an organisation can take to increase its level of innovation are:
1. GENERATION OF INNOVATION CULTURE One of the characteristics of an innovative organisation is its focus on experimentation. The direc-tives encourage employees to try new things and are willing to support them if things do not go as planned. Knowing that innovation involves risk, innovative companies under-stand that experiments can go wrong
and they are prepared to accept the consequences and en-courage the innovator to learn and keep trying. Without expecting all offices to be like the famous Googleplex of-fices, the work environment influences the way employees view innovation. It is easy to detect when employees are afraid to be creative in some hierarchically rigid compa-nies.
2. CREATIVITY SKILLS TRAINING It is possible to increase the efficiency of the creative work team. Many of the tools, previously only available to creative advertising agency pro-fessionals, are currently used in all types of businesses to turn the typical staff meetings into effective brainstorm-ing sessions. After many years of mind programming that have led employees to think in a uniform manner, the in-tervention of experts is required to enhance the creative po-tential and to learn how to apply it in productive activities. The development of personal competencies related to crea-tivity and innovation is now the priority of many human resources managers. Once the employee achieves the mas-tery of creativity techniques and understands the dynam-ics of generating innovative ideas, they can react quickly to problems and produce out of the box solutions. This means breaking traditional patterns and paradigms.
The creativity skills and competencies range from ap-propriate management of brainstorming sessions to the implementation of games to solve problems, as in the case of Lego Serious Work, the methodology developed by
04/2010 COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR
Lego which uses its traditional blocks to lead employees to analyse organisational challenges in innovative ways.
3. IDEA CAPTURE SYSTEMS One of the characteristics of creativity is its relational nature. This means that many of the most striking ideas emerge in the most unexpected mo-ments in response to external stimuli. It does not matter if you are Albert Einstein trying to decipher the universal laws of physics, or a manager looking for a new strategy, once the brain starts to work on a specific challenge, the solution can be reached by brainstorming with some colleagues or look-ing out of the bus window to a church clock. These are mo-ments of inspiration, these are A-ha! moments.
Artists know that when they have one of these moments of inspiration, they must run for their guitar or their brush, otherwise the idea will be lost. Similarly, companies should strive to capture ideas that blossom in the brain of any of their employees before these are forgotten. Idea manage-ment systems range from simple mailboxes located in the corridors of offices to complex, cloud-computing type in-formation systems. Although idea management systems are generally open to any kind of ideas, many organisations prefer to launch campaigns inviting to propose ideas on a specific topic. The advantage provided by the campaign strategy is that the challenge effect increases the quan-tity and quality of the proposed ideas. Idea management systems often incorporate policies of rewarding those who make high-value creative contributions to the organisa-tion. In this case, it requires that the team in charge of the innovation programme set very clear ground rules for the selection and rewarding of the best ideas.
4. IMPLEMENTATION OF INNOVATION: HAVING LOTS OF IDEAS DOES NOT MEAN HAVING A LOT OF INNOVA-TION One of the more outstanding features of companies with high innovative efficiency is their ability to move from ideation to action. Although in this type of organisation the creative contribution of the employees is valued, what really matters is their ability to convert high-potential ideas into finished products that benefit the company. Many compa-nies have chosen to offer incentives and rewards to those who manage to successfully complete a project of innova-tion, rather than those who proposed the initial idea.
One of the most interesting trends in innovation is the one known as fast prototyping. Given that, when con-ceiving an idea, it is not usual practice to take into account all the factors that affect the ideas subsequent implemen-tation, it is helpful to quickly conduct a pilot test, which allows for a more realistic analysis of the ideas viability.
Unlike the traditional approach, in which the implementation of a pro-totype or a pilot test is planned care-fully to simulate reality as closely as possible, fast prototyping promotes immediate tests that (even though they are still far from optimal con-ditions) provide a more complete picture of all outcomes implied by
the idea. It allows failure in the early stages of development, when the cost is much lower. The result of these fast prototyping practices allows the organisation to decide whether to suspend the project or to proceed to design a more complex prototype.
5. KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT Once an organisation understands that the quality of the creative con-tributions of its team is directly relat-ed to the ease with which employees
Accessing the right-side of the brain
Innovation is key to buisness growth.
Idea capture systems should be put in place to detect and catch ideas at the right time, perhaps by offering rewards.
Low-cost fast prototyping of ideas allows for failure in early stages of idea development.
Informal communication spaces en-courage ideas, as well as quick access to experts.
Open innovation utilises third-party help, best used for non-strategic projects.
Many of the most striking ideas emerge in the most unexpected moments in resp-
sonse to external stimuli.
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companies who are looking for ways to foster innovation can meet. One of the main arguments against open in-novation is that it provides competitors with insight into the inner workings of a competitor organisation. For this reason, most companies using open innovation only do it for projects that are non-strategic. Another argument is that the organisation loses control over the development process. This involves some loss of efficiency as the outside researcher is not concerned about taking advantage of the productive capacity of the company.
Another form of open innovation is the one known as co-creation, in which clients are involved in develop-ing solutions. In this case, the company still controls the research process but provides its customers the opportu-nity to participate by proposing ideas and making tests.
AMBIDEXTROUS THINKING AND INNOVATION Some experts on brain function propose a model in which each hemisphere plays a role. The left side is responsible for analytical and structured thinking: it is the logical side. The right side uses thinking based on emotions and percep-tions: it is the illogical side. If we use this model to explain the functioning of an organisation, we can associate its ability to define and fulfill the formal processes as thinking of the left side. On the other hand, the ability to imagine new ways of doing things is thinking of the right side.
Companies that stand out by their level of innovation show ambidextrous thinking. They are capable of breaking with the usual; they can ide-ate completely new things, but are also capable of rigor-ously analysing the viability of these ideas, and turning them into formal projects running on deadlines.
What kind of thinking prevails in your organisa-tion? Chances are that if your organisation has a tendency to left-brain thinking, you should reinforce some of the elements outlined above in order to stimulate innovation and make real differences, and thus increase your mar-ket competitiveness.
share and discuss their ideas, then the way in which the organisation operates can start to evolve. Knowl-edge-driven companies:
- Value people because of their ability to generate and share new knowledge, not because of how much knowledge they have at the moment.
- Promote informal communication spaces, where it is much easier for ideas to emerge and be improved in a collaborative environment.
- Design knowledge yellow pages tool, where someone who is develop-ing an idea can easily find experts in any of the required subjects. Many of these tools are forum type, where you can post open questions that of-ten get responses from collaborators located anwhere in the world.
6. OPEN INNOVATION A highly in-teresting alternative for organisations looking to boost innovation is to leave the development and research required for any project to a third party. This practice, known as open innovation, is being increasingly used by companies to reduce the risks involved in innova-tion. In many cases, the organisation only pays the ally when their research and development work has resulted in a viable product. This eliminates the high costs associated with failed de-velopment projects.
Organisations using open in-novation could even propose open contests in which researchers from around the world compete for a prize offered to whoever manages to reach the desired result. Once the company selects the winner and awards the prize, it obtains the rights to exploit the idea. Some web-sites, such as InnoCentive.com, of-fer a platform where researchers and Pho
Guillermo SolanoDirector,Centro de Innovacon
Guillermo Solano is a resear-cher and expert on organisa-tional innovation and creati-vity applied to business. He currently heads the Centro de Innovacin, a Colombia-based company dedicated to sup-port innovation processes in organisations and improving the human resource. Solano has 15 years of experience as marketing manager in For-tune 500 companies.