Some organisations are obsessive about finding the silver bullet—the one-shot wonder that solves everything. In an effort to strengthen performance, we’ll often make disproportionate investments in a single initiative to invoke change.
Others are fixed on generating ideas – jumping towards uncontrolled creativity as the solution.
However most of our organisations don’t suffer from a lack of ideas, they suffer from a lack of process that identifies the ideas worth having.
As David Burkus has said – it’s not an idea problem; it’s a recognition problem. And it’s not always about creativity either.
Creativity is not innovation. Creativity is a prerequisite for sure. Innovation, however, is the practical application of creativity.
Perversely, the answer to unlocking creativity isn’t to go looking for ideas – but to go looking for really good problems.
Many of our organisations have a bias towards getting quick answers. We favour execution rather than contemplation. Great performance at work is usually defined as creating and implementing solutions rather than finding the best problems to tackle.
When you’ve nailed the right problems – that’s the time to go looking for ideas.
This on its own though – isn’t enough.
Many of our organisations , without realising it, act as inhibitors of innovation.
Rules and protocols are put in place — often for very good reasons — that preserve the status quo. Over time, organisations develop a set of social norms — ‘the way we do things around here’ designed to protect the business from failure.
Related: How To Avoid Innovation Theatre
The discipline of innovation, and it is a discipline, takes commitment, resources, and the right skills set to challenge these norms.
Your innovation approach won’t last long unless senior leadership has a deep investment in it. Innovation dies from the top.
At Bromford we’ve tried to focus on problems — those incomprehensibly complex and messy issues that need to be understood and defined before they can be incorporated into organisational strategy.
Once we’ve done that we involve colleagues formed from a horizontal slice of people from around the business – and grouped around non-siloed themes. They are a way of seeding innovation throughout the organisation and beginning a wider cultural transformation.
We also link up with our Data and Insight colleagues to make sure every concept is supported by sound evidence. One of the big challenges of fostering an evidence-based culture is that it requires a shift in thinking. It’s not easy for people who are used to making instinctive gut decisions to transition to a world in which the smart decisions are data-driven.
How do you unlock creativity?
- You find space – mentally and physically to translate thinking into practical applications – and to ensure that any ideas that are pursued connect with the organisations overall strategy
- You bring people together to conceive, champion, and carefully develop new approaches that have not been tried before
- You nurture bright ideas and protect them from the established practices (and the people) they threaten
- You open up internal and external channels and become a conduit with organisations, individuals, and ideas outside
- You act as a pressure chamber that allows these external influences into your organisation in a safe and controlled way
- You use a mix of methodologies including design thinking and prototyping to help visualise solutions
- You don’t talk yourselves out of change where it appears too difficult or complex
- You build a culture around evidence and inquiry
- You constantly strive to ask better questions
Do that and you’ll always get better answers
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