How To Help Teams Develop a More Innovative Mindset

Oct 17, 2016
13 Min Read
How To Help Teams Develop a More Innovative Mindset

How To Help Teams Develop a More Innovative Mindset


When a study was released earlier this year noting that procrastination can make you more creative, many people probably rejoiced.

Instead of being thought of as slackers by co-workers and bosses, they can now claim they’re not goofing off – they’re being “creative.”

To a certain extent, that’s true. The research the University of Wisconsin found that those who put off doing work by playing games like Solitaire for five minutes before offering ideas were 28% more creative – as rated by assessors – than those who started working on their ideas right away.

Part of the reason is because you may default to more conventional ideas when launching immediately into work and delaying your efforts may allow you to connect with something more creative. Still other studies have found that when you allow yourself to get bored, you’re more likely to get those creative juices flowing, which is why many people report having breakthrough ideas while stuck in traffic or washing the dishes.

But just delaying the start of your work or getting bored isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to pop up with an idea that will rival the invention of the telegraph or the iPhone.

So what is it that fuels some individuals and organizations to be so innovative? Why does it seem some people get an extra helping of creativity or some companies can churn out innovative ideas seemingly every week?


Moving the world forward

Robert F. Brands, author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation II,” says that it’s important to first understand that individuals and organizations may be their own worst enemies when it comes to creativity and often set up their own innovation roadblocks.

“You might only think you can be innovative in creating a new service or a new product. But there is lots of space in any job to be innovative,” he says. “Anyone can be innovative.”

Second, when you try to be innovative, you need to understand you’re going to fail – probably more than once. Still, there’s an important distinction when you fail while attempting innovation, he says.

“The difference is that you don’t look at it as a failure. You decide it’s a learning experience, even if there is a loss of time or money,” he says.

Adam Grant, author of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” points out that being original means not only doing things that haven’t been done before, but also doing things that are useful. Coming up with bizarre ideas may sound creative, but won’t mean much if they’re not ideas that will make something easier or better or more interesting.

Further, once you have that idea, then you have to have the courage to act on it, and that can often be a tough thing to do – even for some of our greatest innovators, Grant says.

“In every domain, from business and politics to science and art, the people who move the world forward with original ideas are rarely paragons of conviction and commitment,” Grant writes. “When you peel back the layers, the truth is that they, too, grapple with fear, ambivalence and self-doubt.”

For example, in Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony, he threw out the conclusion of the first movement because he believed it wasn’t long enough. Later, he came back to it. “Had Beethoven been able to distinguish an extraordinary from an ordinary work, he would have accepted his composition immediately as a hit,” Grant says.

Unfortunately, even if internal fears are conquered, that doesn’t mean the fear of others won’t become an additional roadblock. Brands says that when someone with an innovative idea steps forward they often face tough push-back from those who want to protect their turf, engaging in what he calls “innovation assassination.” Or, there can be “analysis paralysis” when leaders can’t take action and instead rehash old arguments and decisions until they miss the opportunity, he says.

“Sometimes you can’t be perfect. You just need to launch and get your hands dirty,” Brands says.

Brands says that it’s imperative that organizations foster an innovative culture if they want to survive. “I am afraid it’s too late for some companies because things are changing so fast these days. Even those companies that are doing well, I would say they should continue to worry about what’s next,” Brands says.  “You always need to be pushing.”

Innovation experts offer several tips about how to develop a more innovative mindset for teams and for organizations. Among their suggestions:

  • Step outside your comfort zone. Grant found in his research that some of the most original thinkers are involved in things outside their sphere of expertise or knowledge. Nobel Prize winners, for example, are “dramatically more likely to be involved in the arts than less accomplished scientists,” he says.
  • Shake up the norm. Bring people together in your organization who do not normally work together, Brands suggests. This can shift the usual “idea leader” into a more supporting role, bringing others into the innovation process. Don’t worry if there’s some conflict among such diverse team members, as that can lead to better ideas, he says. As Grant notes: “When you remember that rules and systems were created by people, it becomes clear that they’re not set in stone – and you begin to consider how they can be improved.”
  • Create an ideas database. Some ideas may be great, but come along at the wrong time. By keeping an inventory of all ideas, they can be reviewed periodically to assess whether they can be improved or used another time, Brands says. As an individual, you can keep an idea notebook to help you write down new thoughts, suggests Robert Epstein, a psychologist.
  • Make creativity a habit. You can learn to cultivate creativity by challenging yourself to think of ways to build a castle out of Popsicle sticks, for example. Epstein says that the challenge doesn’t necessarily have to be solved, but challenging yourself with new thoughts will help generate new ideas. Grant notes that learning about a different culture can also spark creativity, as shown by fashion designers “who became more innovative when living in foreign countries very different from their own.”
  • Shake up the norm. Just breaking out of a rut such as using the same meeting room can help teams tap into more creative thoughts. Try meeting outside or in the breakroom, and try mixing up free-form brainstorming and set agendas from week to week, Brands says.
  • Ask for feedback. It can be difficult to judge your own ideas “because you tend to be too enthusiastic” and will trust your gut if you’re not an expert in the area, Grant explains. At the same time, managers are often too critical when evaluating ideas, which is why you should “run your pitches by peers – they’re poised to spot the potential and the possibilities,” Grant says.


Creativity traps

One of the problems that often goes unexamined when considering how to boost creativity is the fact that many leaders – and employees – may actually avoid working with the “true” creatives.

A creative is often seen as “deadline-resistant dreamer, forgetful, with a faraway, thousand-yard stare, impossible to deal with, the redheaded stepchild of your team” who “thankfully – and profitably – comes up with the solution to the problem that no one else on your innovation team could have solved,” Brands says.

Despite such results, many leaders and teams find ways to either avoid working with creatives or “routinely beat the creativity right out” of people they hire to take them to the next level of innovation, he says.

If organizations don’t want to drive away their true creatives and benefit from their talents, then they need to embrace the different ways such people like to work. That means the person may want to work alone, with a detailed outline, or simply follow their muse. The key is that there is no right way or wrong way to get the creativity process moving forward, Brands says.

“Innovation leaders must be willing to let down their guard and accommodate those who have a different set of skills, values and way of working,” he says.

In his book, Brands asks whether anyone really wants creativity, or whether it’s just the “buzzword du jour.”

“I do believe that’s the case in some situations,” he says. “Senior leaders get worried about innovation because there is uncertainty, risk taking and no guaranteed results. But what I try to tell them is that innovation is a marathon, not a sprint.”

He suggests that leaders “start simple” by trying to create one new innovation a year, regularly communicating those intentions to the entire organization. He also urges organizations to maintain separate funds for long-term development and new products, so that resources remain available for future innovations.

“Sharing those targets can become a simple mantra that can be owned on an individual, departmental and organizational level,” he says. “This helps the acceptance to grow and it’s clear what you’re striving for. Everyone will start to focus on innovation.”

Removing obstacles can help your team be more innovative and creative. Give them the Process Improvement Playbook: Overcoming the Hurdles of Manual Processes in the Workplace.

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