Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Leadership & Business
After addressing artificial intelligence's impact in our work-sphere last week, I now explore the attributes that we as human labour can bring to the table and undeniably it is precisely creativity and innovation that have become all the hype in business today. But what do these terms mean? What characteristics do they entail? I frequently read about impactful leaders in history and during our time to concoct my own inspiration and motivation. Thus, who better than the epitome of creativity and innovation to share this insight, Steve Jobs? “Creativity is just connecting things,” asserted Jobs. “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they really didn't do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesise new things,” confesses Jobs. When we play with convention, our default neurological pathway is the one of least resistance, wired to follow what we’ve done before. Creativity and innovation are just the opposite. It is typically when I have exhausted known routes, that I seek possibilities and options through innovative connections.
1. Visionary "Big Picture" Leadership
I truly admire Steve Jobs’ transformational leadership style and the Apple work environment as a quintessential example of organisational culture that foments creativity and innovation. I often read about these type of ”disruptive” leaders who convey a certain disregard for what is “possible” at a moment in time, for they are too busy already designing the present they envision. Jobs was brilliant at tapping into human and group psychology by “just connecting things,” as quoted above and influencing what was “cool.” Windows has proudly remained known as a “traditional” household product company, while Apple since inception has consistently challenged the norm, through Jobs’ visionary lifestyle movement inspiring to think outside the box and take risks. He took the computer business focused on the product and transformed it into a consumer driven business fueled by purpose. This organisational WHY, as leadership consultant Simon Sinek proclaims, marks the vital difference between finite and infinite business players, and Apple is an exemplary forward-thinking infinite player.
2. "Vulnerability Organisational Culture"
When called to the batting lineup, many shy away under the ’but I am not the creative type,’ to excuse their quiescence. “To assume creativity as something other people do, that you’re not capable of it, is an abdication of responsibility,” sanctions Burkus, author of “The Myths of Creativity.” How do we then as leaders create the space for team members to tap into their “responsibility” of creativity and remain engaged with the organisation’s mission? The work environment in which I have felt most inspired is one that applauds courageous participation, reducing barriers to free thought such as fear of ridicule, failure, or job loss. This space then becomes a sort of outlandish safe haven designed to push boundaries, stimulating free thought where creators and originators are given the space to imagine what is not in front of them. Researcher Brené Brown (PhD) weighs in calling for a “vulnerability culture” within an organisation, where vulnerability is measured through amount of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Brown asserts, “Without vulnerability, there is no creativity; without tolerance for failure, there is no innovation.” In effect, through personal experience I have learned that by welcoming redirection and detours, I broaden my lens and discover the possibilities that did not exist under my initial narrow focus. Embracing the inevitability of failure, and as such, bedrock to success, reconciles you with the willingness to be wrong, but also to be right and have everyone thinking you are wrong.
3. Diverse Work-groups
Regardless of the elegant notion of internalisation of failure, it is hardly pleasurable to fail, thus it is more common to choose to be a critic than a creator. This presents a challenge for leadership to generate and maintain a continual organisational culture of openness. One natural catalyst to creativity and innovation is building contrasting, yet complementary work teams from multi-cultural and functional backgrounds harnessing this diversity of thought leadership in challenging learning and work environments. This forges a melting pot of ideas from one industry in one geographical location and their re-application in divergent and even improbable scenarios, thus giving birth to creativity and innovation.
4. Holistic Professional Experience
In addition to a rich work group, a just as colourful comprehensive work experience is pivotal. A friend accurately said once, “The more you feed your brain with wide-ranging information, the more it will respond with wide-ranging ideas.” Thus, experience is raw material for the imagination to creatively build with, just as data entry is food for artificial intelligence. Accordingly, challenging individuals by offering them the opportunity to use a percentage of their work time to develop new ideas, switch departments or locations within the organisation, take cross-training, and engage in extracurricular activities is a great way to enrich your collaborators. Certainly, one cannot expect different results by doing the same things and jump-starting convention and routine is a great way to generate a stimulating work environment. Danish architect Bjarke Ingels uses this same varied exposure to devise “combinations of seemingly exclusive ideas” to design his convention-defying buildings.
Personally, my almost three years tenure working and living in Costa Rica, illustrated to me an additional creativity impetus: how Plato’s “necessity is the mother of invention” comes alive. I’ve had the gift of working alongside visionary leaders who ignite passion for their mission, yet have a laissez-faire attitude towards the details of the execution, jolting employees into immediate action and at the mercy of their own wit and creativity. This hands-on organisational culture and often limited company resources urges employees to wear many hats while exposed to unfamiliar situations. I, too, took on a gamma of roles through this exposure and comprehensive work scope, resulting in both challenging and highly gratifying experiences with clients from multiple key industries across Latin American and the Caribbean. I acquired deep multifaceted understanding from the peculiarities of staffing my clients in a myriad of departments, as well as designed outsourcing projects catered for their specific industry and team needs. Through initiative and by leading most of the groundwork for functional, procedural, and financial implications myself in diverse project structures, I acquired the tools and the “wide-ranging information” to be resourceful and creative in my sales role. Extensive client experiences encouraged me to borrow best practices from one field, for example from a project for a sales team in Trinidad & Tobago in the pharmaceutical industry, and innovatively refashion it to apply in another context, say for sales teams in Bahamas in a similar regulated industry such as medical device.
Certainly not one single leadership style works with every person and learning how to read people properly to influence and manage them individually is what distinguishes the good from the great leaders. It has been my experience that creativity and innovation are prompted by a 1. visionary transformational leader that generates a 2. vulnerability organisational culture, inviting team players to explore, discover and even “fail.” Additionally, the innovative fusion of ideas is ignited through a work environment that 3. highlights members’ diverse skillset and 4. foments holistic experiences.
Comprehensively, it is purpose that ensures engagement and provokes our “fix it” mentality, triggering creativity to tackle problems, design innovative solutions, and give life to the world we want to live in. I continue to learn about organisations that are making substantial advances in global issues through innovation, such as NIKE launching sneakers designed out of recycled plastic recovered from the ocean or the Mexican government generating energy from garbage gases to power subways. These are the edifying stories that continually nourish my insatiable passion to contribute and inspire to find new ways to make a difference.
How does your company or organisation fuel creativity and innovation?
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