In kindergarten, my son was told he coloured his turkey wrong because the feathers were a kaleidoscope of colors. It’s too bad my mom wasn’t his teacher because she knows that turkeys don’t have to be varying shades of brown. They can be any colour in the crayon box.
Children are creative. They see a world of infinite possibilities. Unfortunately, after a life time of being told to colour in the lines, to be realistic and to think things through, many of us have moved away from a world of wonder and possibility to a greyer world of defined rules and expectations.
As leaders, we need people on our team who are able to see beyond the obvious; people who understand that just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it always has to be done that way. We need creative ideas on how to improve service, how to streamline processes, how to make the business better. And yet, very often, when we ask our team for ideas and suggestions, we are met with blank stares.
Are those blank stares a result of apathy or are they a result of having the creativity pushed down so far they believe it’s gone?
What can you do as a leader to encourage and inspire creative and innovative thought?
- Believe that your team is creative and innovative, even if they don’t.
- Walk with them through the creative process. When babies start to walk, they cling to their parent’s hands. Team members rediscovering their creative potential may need to hold your hand for a while too. When someone comes to you with a fragment of an idea, don’t send them away to “flesh it out further”. Instead, thank them for their suggestion and then start asking questions that lead them further down the creative path they have tentatively chosen.
- Encourage creativity everywhere from everyone. Creativity is not limited to a great ad campaign, cool menu design or inspired art. Creative ideas, the ability to look beyond “that’s the way it’s always been done” eliminates redundancies, excessive paperwork and cumbersome, outdated policies and procedures.
- Don’t punish failure. When a baby falls down, we encourage them to get up. We don’t berate a baby for trying something before studying all potential outcomes. We don’t tell a baby “You should have done it this way.” We know that with more practice, that baby will walk. The same thing applies at work. As Ken Robinson said – “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Remember, a failed idea is better than no idea and is one step to ultimate success.
What do you think? What can leaders do to cultivate and encourage creativity?