During the week I was encouraged to reflect on how to develop innovation and creativity at work. It is something that is the backbone of the communication and public relations industry. The industry is built on having and developing ideas and this includes ways to push the boundaries whatever they are. However, in other professions and work places developing ideas and creativity is not something that comes naturally – it has to be taught and encouraged.
So what are the things that communication and public relations people do that makes ideas and creativity second nature? I have boiled it down to five elements that I think can encourage creativity and innovation in the workplace.
1. Encourage challenge from all.
Developing the right culture and environment for creativity is essential. This means allowing people to challenge what happens in the work place. There must be a confidence that they have to question the status quo and discuss how to improve what they are doing. Hierarchical approaches to management need to be banished in favour of a collective approach to achieving results.
2. Involve people.
Another cultural element is the way people are able to become involved in setting and delivering the priorities. If they can take part in the development of the business plan and how it gets delivered then they own the issues. Allowing freedom of thought and expression focused on work empowers people to see that they can make a difference and therefore they want to be that change or improvement.
3. Know the problem.
You need to be clear about what the issues are that you are addressing. Creativity and innovation need to understand the accepted position or boundaries that exist. There should be a collective knowledge about the situation and it can then become a springboard to discussion, challenge and ultimately the outcome of solutions or ideas. There is no benefit to ideas that are not founded in how to improve the business, service or products produced.
4. Get people together.
In a world where businesses has been made instant and speedy through the use of technology from email to social media, there is still a huge benefit to getting people together to work on an idea. In the PR world it is about getting together to develop a campaign, share thoughts, throw ideas in, find something that works and start to shape it. The best way of doing this is still by face-to-face interaction, which will allow people to get to an almost formed initiative, campaign or idea. The early stages could be developed using technology outlining the details of the issue and encouraging some initial thoughts and ideas through email or social media. But in the end it works better and faster when it is done with people getting together.
5. Remember the 90/10 rule.
Finally, remember that you are trying to create a culture of challenge, ideas and freedom to push the boundaries. In developing a creative approach, you have to accept that some things will work and other things will unfortunately fail. They will fail and it will be no-one’s fault, it will be due to events, issues or that it is just not the right time for it. Not everything works first time. It may need to be developed or just put to one side as a learning experience. Work on the 90/10 rule. For every nine things that may work there will be one that fails. When it fails there should be no inquest, no blame and no reproach. In these days when time and money are in short supply this can be a real challenge to anyone in charge. However, if accepting failure is not there then the culture you work hard to create will be eroded.
The question many will ask is why is creativity and encouraging ideas important? It is the thing that allows innovation, it is the way that inventions have been developed and it is the way organisations evolve and improve. Ideas are not in the realm of managers alone. In fact, it is the managers who should provide the environment to allow ideas, should help see the ideas through and should identify what works and why. The employees that are on the frontline of any business are the ones that will have the ideas as they see the problems and issues first hand on a daily basis.
I do believe that creativity is in some people’s nature but it is also something that can be encouraged. There may be a huge range of tools and techniques for developing innovation and creativity but these alone cannot make the difference. And when I reflect on the developments during the week, I come to one conclusion – it is the culture of collaboration, challenge and freedom that makes the difference in the work place and what we must aspire to achieve.