by Laurie Kasparian
“A company’s most important asset isn’t raw materials, transportation systems, or political influence, it is creative capital—simply put, an arsenal of creative thinkers whose ideas can be turned into valuable products and services”.3 An increasing number of problems that businesses address have few or no precedents, and competition pushes the drive for innovation and invention at an ever-quickening pace. Consequently, creative and imaginative employees, who can produce insights into problems where conventional thinking fails, are in great demand.
The world’s most innovative companies promote a wide variety of methods to nurture creativity among their employees and allow them to flourish. The most obvious, and now standard, approach is to create an environment conducive to creative thinking. Artwork, particularly art that is a talking point, replaces standard corporate posters. Plants and flowers do more than add color; studies have shown that both sexes produce 15% more ideas and solutions in workplaces that have an abundance of foliage.6 Cubicles disappear to allow collaborative workspaces. Diversions on company sites have been shown to change thinking patterns and allow innovative thoughts to bubble to the surface. DreamWorks offers ping-pong and other games that do more than burn calories on a treadmill.7 Google eliminates distractions for employees by offering on-site dry cleaning and medical facilities because they found these services increase productivity and improve retention.2 IDEO’s founder, David Kelley, unlocks the creative potential of his employees so they can innovate routinely for the globally recognized design firm (e.g. Apple’s mouse). His employees start the day with yoga or brainstorming in an atmosphere of complete acceptance. Workspaces change constantly, and work takes place at any hour and for any length of time desired by the employee. Companies like Google even have a “culture czar” who is responsible for all aspects of the workplace culture.2
The most successful exploitation of creativity requires creative leadership as well. Rather than fearing the chaos that a creative atmosphere might foster, companies need to know how to let the kite string out but also how to pull it firm when it is time. To avoid a culture of innovation run amok, Google and HP are doing less in order to focus on fewer innovations. As Steve Jobs said, “I am as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things”.1 The best creative leaders reroute reporting lines and create physical spaces for collaboration. Organizations must be flexible in order to support a culture of innovation. They team up people from across the organization chart to foster new ways of looking at problems and provide them the needed time to pursue creative thinking. Google’s approach to management structure is based on the assumption that breakthroughs come from questioning assumptions and smashing paradigms. “Do not do something because someone told you to do so” is their motto.2 Finding the right metrics to determine which innovations will be profitable is management’s responsibility, but micromanaging creative people is not. Creative companies constantly seek new approaches to recruiting, retaining and rewarding talented employees.
One caveat for all innovative companies is to provide appropriate rewards for employees who meet the challenges of creativity. The obvious reward for creativity and innovative thinking is the successful fruition of the team member’s idea. In this way, the creative and innovative thinking is internally motivated, as opposed to an external reward structure. Internally, companies can reward innovation and creativity by supporting and promoting those who dare to innovate and create, or simply by not punishing people for mistakes, which only stifles creativity. External rewards take on a great variety of forms. Some are private, others more public. Some are tangible and others intellectual. The most successful rewards are actually not financial. Research has shown that rivalries arise more easily when bonuses are the reward.5 Public recognition, personal letters from company leaders, symbolic rewards, and prizes are preferred by roughly only 30% of employees. Flextime and other forms of autonomy are desirable rewards, as are titles or promotions. David McClemmon’s theory of motivation finds three motivating factors among employees: the need to achieve in relation to a set of standards that affords a feeling of successful accomplishment, the need for affiliation with co-workers in a way that bestows a positive image, and the need for power, both over others in a leadership capacity and over themselves through a sense of autonomy.2 By developing a profound understanding of their employee’s motivations, companies can recognize innovative ideas and also keep a stream of those ideas flowing by offering a variety of rewards for creativity.
1Beahm, George, I, Steve, Agate, 2011
2Cook, Joshua, http://www.thinkingleaders.com/archives/517
3 Florida, Richard and Jim Goodnight, http://hbr.org/2005/07/managing-for-creativity/ar/1
5 Kohn, Alfie, http://www.alfiekohn.org/managing/fbrftb.htm
6Rosenberg, Phil, http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2010/05/11/best-companies-dreamworks/
7Smith, Gavin, http://under30ceo.com/6-ways-to-increase-your-creativity/
Grodin, Seth, Purple Cow, Portfolio, 2009
Kelley, David and Jonathan Littman, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm, Crown Business, 2001
Tidd, Joe and John Bessant, Managing Innnovation: Integrating Technological, Market and Organizational Change, Wiley, 2009
Trott, Paul, Innovation Management and New Product Development, Financial Times Management, 2005