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4 Surefire Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Organization

By Douglas Karr

A good friend of mine works in national media where the focus is generating creative ideas on episodes about creativity. The sad irony, though, is that they work in a fear-driven atmosphere where failure is avoided at all costs. As a result, the team’s creativity is stifled rather than fostered; it’s not only eroding the series, but truly debilitating the team.

Weekly ideation meetings start off with a sigh, and work begins with finding successes across other mediums that proved popular. The team, which is well-paid and was assembled because of their creativity, is unhappy and unmotivated. Meetings often go from light and snarky to downright angry and unproductive. Even the best creatives require an atmosphere that actually fosters creativity — in fact, they may even need it more.

The Origins of Stifling Creativity

If I look back on my education, I can’t help but remember how even the most meaningful, credible, and motivated educators sometimes stifled my creativity. Class after class of papers and tests marked with negative points, coupled with remarks on what I did wrong and what I needed to improve, tainted the passion and inspiration I originally felt for the subject matter. I’m curious as to why educators don’t abandon traditional red-pen-grading and, instead, use green ink for making positive comments on work that stands out from the crowd. Rather than feeling supported and creative, I always felt like I needed to be part of the herd — especially because those students that best reflected the herd were rewarded with honors.

Move forward to my career and I was blessed to experience leadership that fostered creativity. I had several managers who saw what made me excited about my work and encouraged my growth in a specific direction. This is how I took the unconventional path from Industrial Electrician to Online Marketer. It sounds strange, but my job as a newspaper plant electrician began requiring more and more programming knowledge, from programmable logic controllers through to Intranet production sites. I was lucky enough to work at a newspaper where the intersection of database marketing and the Internet came to fruition just as I displayed my prowess at analytics and troubleshooting. We swapped the equipment databases with behavioral and demographic databases about subscribers, and my work went from targeting production issues to targeting marketing issues.

An online marketer was born.

The leadership at the newspaper I worked in was quite different than most, though. We developed coaches rather than managers, and our job wasn’t to fix people, it was to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and move them away from those weaknesses and towards their strengths. The system naturally developed a creative culture within the organization, because it focused on the rewarding positives instead of punishing negatives.

Here are 4 Surefire Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Organization

  • Pet Projects. Institute time and resources for employees to fund and work on pet projects. This is time spent away from teams and leadership who can stifle creativity simply because of their natural influence on the employee. A simple remark from a manager can redirect an employee’s focus, and potentially move them away from creative solutions. This doesn’t have to be uncontrolled free time; you can develop timelines and budgets to ensure productivity and output expectations are in place.
  • Coach. Some organizations, such as Chipotle, have begun rewarding staff based on their ability to produce and promote successful team members, rather than their skill at boosting the bottom line. Managers manage, leaders lead — but coaches develop their employees, identify their strengths, and push them away from failure and towards success.
  • Upend Reviews. The typical review process ensures that an employee’s goals align with the organization and provides the employee with constructive criticism on how they can improve their performance. It could be argued that an employee’s performance isn’t the responsibility of the employee, but instead, of the leaders they work under. Upend your reviews, and have your employees review the leadership of the company to garner feedback on what type of environment they require to increase creativity. Then, make the necessary changes.
  • Reward Risk. Many of the most monumental failures both educate and drive change in an organization. You don’t want to risk your company, but it’s time to eliminate the “Employee of the Month” politics and, instead, develop a program where creativity and risk are rewarded. Don’t single out one employee — identify a positive result attained from each employee, and recognize them for their creativity. Then, sit back and watch the inspiration and genius blossom!
  • We Are in the Age of Creativity

    The Internet, global economy, and advancements in logistics have increased our competitiveness. It’s my humble opinion that our economic woes are largely due to the fact that we’ve failed to fully embrace the creativity of our nation; we continue to drone on and on about formal education, social norms, and holding on to a system that was designed to manufacture widgets in a production line, rather than drive worldwide innovation.

    In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin says it best:

    “The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed. Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can. The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job. Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people. I call the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin. The job is not the work.”

    If we’re to overcome the stagnation we’ve institutionalized within our national education and management systems, it’s going to require dramatic change. I hope each of us will embrace the change needed to foster creativity within our organizations.