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?
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:
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.