Today’s companies want employees with critical and creative thinking skills, a willingness to adapt, and the capacity to innovate. But the reality is that much of daily work life is routine and geared toward clearing to-do lists. There often isn’t time or flexibility for much creativity.
In order to be more innovative in the workplace, you’ll want to be organized and on the same page with others. While some work assignments require special preparation, many are quite simple to facilitate, says CCL’s Sylvester Taylor, co-author of “Making Creativity Practical: Innovation That Gets Results.”
One way to foster creativity is through targeted innovation – a technique that helps groups diagnose, generate and apply different creative approaches to specific problems. Here’s how it works:
First, state the problem in a way that encourages creative problem solving. Be clear and avoid value judgments, mandates or implied solutions. For example, instead of, “We need to figure out how to reduce manufacturing costs by 10 percent,” you might ask, “How can we reduce the high cost of manufacturing?”
Next, think of solutions as falling into one of two styles: incremental or breakaway. An incremental solution improves on the original approach without fundamentally changing it. A breakaway approach challenges the definition of the problem and holds off predicting outcomes.
Then begin generating ideas – and don’t forget to evaluate them.
Taylor also proposes four (4) familiar techniques to help you become more innovative in the workplace:
No. 1: Brainstorm. Most are familiar with this technique but could use a refresher on how to make it a truly creative process. Effective brainstorming requires everyone to suspend judgment and avoid any positive or negative evaluation of ideas. Allow plenty of time to generate a multitude of ideas. If you end a brainstorming session too soon or stop it in its tracks with judgment, you won’t see its full benefit.
No. 2: Give brainwriting a try. This is a quiet variation on brainstorming. Participants write down several ideas and then regularly exchange papers. Without talking, group members write new ideas and modify others’ comments. Circulate the papers throughout the group for as long as you want.
No. 3: Rethink the problem at hand. This often leads to new approaches that might be more effective in developing a solution. For example, “Upper management says we need a more reliable lubricant for our factory engines. What is the real problem? Do we need new engines? Is there something that works better than oil? Can we reduce the heat and friction in the engines to make the lubricant more effective?”
No. 4: Excursions. Get the group’s mind off the problem at hand with a literal or mental excursion. For example. take the group out of the office to a library or bookstore. Send everyone off to select a single book, but enforce two rules: it cannot be a book directly related to the current problem or one they have already read. Then, look for unexpected insights that come from the range of books that the group selects.
By applying a variety of different (yet simple) strategies, you may find that you’re able to get your people excited and more innovative in the workplace. Look for more activities and resources for generating innovative ideas on CCL’s Web site – www.ccl.org – and others, includingwww.buzanworld.com; www.innovating.com; and www.mindtools.com.