How Can a Manager Develop Creativity and Innovation?

One of the key challenges facing organizations is the need to create new value through creativity and innovation. Can the ability to create (“creativity”) and introduce new ideas and methods (“innovation”) be learned? The answer is definitely a yes for both. Managers and leaders are key in taking the initiative.

Where can a manager/leader start? One can get initial ideas by Googling for articles and reads on the internet. There are plenty and the trick is to pick out ideas that resonate with you and your team. Creativity and innovation at work is best developed as a team competency and not just an individual one.

Begin with a strong intention followed by action. One can begin with a strong desire to be more creative and innovative and learn as much as possible about the context and processes that enable and strengthen these in one’s self and team. That is, the motivation must be strong enough to move one to transform intention into taking action. Wanting to be more creative and innovative but not taking any action will not develop this magically. Write down what your specific goal/s is/are.

Identify the specific areas for creativity and innovation. One does not operate in a vacuum, so the question is where is new value possible, and a must, to level-up the products and services given to customers/stakeholders? Where and what are the pain points that can be addressed? What unmet, and maybe not so conscious needs and wants, exist in customers/stakeholders that have yet to be addressed? No product, service, or process is perfect, and sometimes one solution causes a new problem, so there will definitely always be opportunities to create and innovate. The point is that one must have specific areas of interest and focus to create new value.

Think outside-the-box, but what box? Often, one does think of the need to “think outside-the-box” but is not clear about what this “box” is, really. One box may be the familiar, the way things are, the status quo, with which one becomes very comfortable, making it difficult to think beyond the familiar. Another box might be one’s self-limiting beliefs and assumptions about what is, can be, cannot be, what is right, what is wrong, and so on. A useful activity to gain insight on the the boxes that constrain us is to have a brainstorming session about “What are the boxes we live in?” Then a discussion of where these boxes come from, how these limit our thinking/ideas, and how to break out of them may give fresh perspectives. Another activity might be to brainstorm “What have we not tried yet? What if?” You get the idea.

Read broadly, not just about one’s specialty. To percolate or catalyze new ideas, one needs to read about many things of interest outside one’s specialty. New ideas are waiting to be discovered or given birth to, facilitated by immersing one’s self in different fields. Different helps to nudge new ideas. The concept of parallel thinking or lateral thinking from Edward de Bono can help one master a more curious and exploratory mindset to think about “what can be” instead of just “what is.”

Make the journey a team challenge, not just a personal challenge. As the adage goes, more heads are better than one, Yes, alright, sometimes, and in developing creativity and innovation, diversity can be a catalyst. Appreciating and encouraging diverse perspectives can fertilize new ideas. Part of the process is to identify what success measures the team can hold itself to so as to ascertain how it is progressing towards its goal to become more creative and innovative. The team can get inputs from its key stakeholders about such measures. For example, a new or reengineered process that cuts down cost by 80% and reduces transaction time by 50%. Whatever the success measures that makes sense in one’s situation, it helps to apply SMART.

Sharpen analytical and critical thinking skills. One can read references on how to achieve these, or take short training, plus learn about and apply Systems Thinking. Systems Thinking is built on both analytical and critical thinking skills. Learning and applying Systems Thinking requires more commitment and discipline, and may take more effort to master. Nevertheless, it would be well worth it. Check this out The Systems Thinker. To make the learning process more fun and exciting, check what programs may be available, public or customized for in-house needs, are available in a graduate school of business near you.

Recognize and reward creativity and innovation. Finally, work with your senior management and HR folks to design and implement a recognition and reward program for creativity and innovation for teams that deliver the goods on: new ideas = new value for customers/stakeholders = measurable business value.