Nonstandard Techniques : Encouraging Creativity

The old adage rings true: Two heads really can be better than one, especially when they're freed to think "outside the box."

Creativity can do wonders for an organization. New ideas coming from more than one employee can greatly benefit a company by harnessing the intellectual capital of a staff and encouraging conflict of ideas to arrive at the best possible outcome. Different employees are gifted in different ways. For example, whereas Mary may excel at customer service innovations, Scott's forte may be redesigning the way you present printed materials to your customers.

Four Types of Thinkers

In a study, the Strategic Leadership Forum found four specific styles of thinking:

  • Knowers.
    Best at facts and able to quickly sort data, knowers are good with numbers and technical systems.

  • Conciliators.
    Conciliators are able, without words, to intuit things about people, projects, and the best way to do things. Conciliators often excel when they love what they are doing, but can lack discipline and have a hard time completing projects.

  • Conceptors.
    Conceptors are able to actually conceive a logical way to accomplish a task that may sound far-fetched at first and then convince skeptics. If conceptors have enough self-discipline, they can go on to make industry breakthroughs.

  • Deliberators.
    Most business executives tend to be deliberators. They have the ability to balance several routine tasks while maintaining a rational approach to the business at hand.

After you get a clear sense of your staff's strengths, you'll be able to leverage their thinking styles by allowing them to think creatively. You may also want to group people who think differently into teams. For instance, Alice may conceive an ad campaign that she knows has the potential to be wildly successful, but as a conciliator she is unable to conceive how to actually pull it off. Realizing this, Alice's boss assigns Joe to help her. As a conceptor, he's able to figure out how to do it and convince the client to take a leap and try the new approach.

Tip : As a leader, you are responsible for figuring out your employees' thinking style, but it may be very beneficial to apply the same magnifying glass to yourself. If you find, like most managers, that you are a deliberator, you may want to spend more time leveraging the intellectual capital of the knowers and conceptors on your team.

How to Foster Creativity

So you've realized that you have some knowers, conciliators, conceptors, and deliberators on your team, but you need to get them to think beyond the end of the day.

First, you'll need to let your employees know that the rules are changing. By asking for their ideas or even asking them to think of new ways to do an existing job, you're acknowledging that you are human, you do not hold all the answers, and you're willing to ask for help. In most cases, this has the added benefit of raising morale. Fostering creativity makes a staff feel appreciated as individuals. Now they'll work even harder to let you know you've made the right decision.

Your relationship with your employees also has to become more permissive, or open and flexible. Your staff needs to know that they can come to you with ideas. Here is a sampling of some ideas that may help get your team thinking creatively:

  • You might want to begin with a good, old-fashioned brainstorming session with a relatively general focus. For example, go around the room and ask each of your staff members to give one idea of a way to improve your unit or product.

  • Ask your employees to push themselves to come up with one new idea a week—large or small. A boss once told me that I should be able to point to at least one innovative thing that I had done to improve our business every month.

  • Keep your group informed of the challenges your business unit faces. Consistently ask them what they would do to solve a particular problem.

  • Make it clear to your staff that no idea is too wild. Employees sometimes fail to innovate because they are scared to mention a good idea they may consider outlandish, inadequate, or silly.

  • Let your staff know that it's okay to make mistakes. Not all ideas, regardless of how great they sound and how feasible they may be, end up working.

  • Be sure to let the entire staff know when an employee's good idea is implemented.

Caution: Make sure your staff understands the difference between discussing a new idea and actually implementing that idea. Employees should never be encouraged to strike out on their own without management's knowledge and approval.
 

Directing Creativity

Three cheers for creativity, but creativity for creativity's sake could be a bad thing. As a leader, it's up to you to subtly keep your team thinking of your primary goals as a unit.
You might set an example to show your group what kind of ideas you're looking for. Or you might keep a list of the top ten creative ideas your staff has submitted. Last, you might hold a meeting to share innovations other businesses in your industry have accomplished, to get your team thinking outside their cubicle walls.

Rewards

Consider setting up a financial rewards system, to further formalize the creative process in your organization. Letting your employees know their reward won't be just a pat on the back could get their creative juices flowing.