Be creative about being creative

Apr 21 2006 by Andy Hanselman Print This Article

A recent survey suggests that we aren't creative enough because we have 'dull, dreary and lacklustre' offices. It also says we don't create sufficient time to brainstorm. Businesses apparently only spend an average of 2.5 hours a year on such meetings.

The survey suggested that we need to spend more time having meetings in hotels. It was, unsurprisingly, produced by a chain of hotels.

I can just imagine the creative process in their marketing department. "Perhaps we should tell people they need to stay in their offices to be more creative".

"No... I've got it – let's promote the idea of using our hotels".

Genius. If that's an example of the degree of creativity they achieve, I'd suggest a hotel room is not the best place to generate ideas.

I'm sure that Picasso didn't suffer because there was no air conditioning, that Mozart struggled to compose The Magic Flute because he didn't have a regular supply of those little mints or fruit sweets, or that the likes of James Dyson or Richard Branson have a permanent residence at the Travelodge, just off junction 21 of the M25.

Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against hotel meeting rooms, and I'm sure many of us can, and do, benefit from getting away from the day to day pressures of the office. But dreary surroundings stopping us being creative? Come on. Dreary managers I can buy. Dull and lacklustre cultures even more so.

One company I know doesn't do brainstorming. They do, however do 'blamestorming' – meetings where people sit around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or why a project failed, and who was responsible. No wonder nobody ever tries anything new, takes a risk or even makes a suggestion.

The role of the leader is to be an enemy of the status quo
The role of the leader is to be an enemy of the status quo. That means challenging, questioning and generating ideas for improvement. And vitally, it also means inspiring everyone else in the business to do the same.

Encouraging creativity is not about having meetings in hotels, nor is it about having an annual brainstorming session. It's about building a culture, along with systems, rewards and processes that encourage ideas and innovation. And by the way, "my door is always open" is not a process.

What is the reward for coming up with a great idea in your business? Too often, the reward is you get to implement your idea. In other words, more work!

Developing a creative culture doesn't happen overnight, but it has to start somewhere. The best place is at the top. Pick one or two of these simple ideas to get the ball rolling (and no, you don't need to sit in a hotel meeting room to do it):

Idea 1: Ask your junior, youngest, newest employees "If you were MD what would you change?" (Come to think of it, ask any of your employees this).

Idea 2: Visit an exhibition or conference - see what you can learn (even better, choose one that has nothing to do with your industry). Want an easier option? Read a trade journal or visit a website from outside your usual comfort zone.

Idea 3: Get a team together, order some pizzas, and ask them to generate 10 ideas to improve / overcome a specific business problem. (Stay out of the meeting, and ask them to feedback to you after)

Idea 4: Think Carlsberg. You've seen the adverts… Ask your people, "If Carlsberg ran our business, what would it look like?"

Idea 5: Identify your most creative people (tip 1: it might not be you; tip 2: ignore hierarchy and status) and give them time for creative thinking. Think of ways to incentivise them for their creativity.

And finally, Idea 6: Do none of these things - but do something.

Creativity and innovation is not prescriptive. One idea often leads to another. Hopefully, reading this has ignited a spark. Do what works for you – even if that means booking a hotel room!

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About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.