Creativity: it’s something you’re either born with or it’s left out of your DNA entirely. Innovators are wired to think outside the box, and others are coded to follow conventional ways of viewing the world. At least that’s what people generally assume. In fact, only 52% of people call themselves “creative”.
But as a small business owner, you’re told you need to foster a culture of creativity to progress your entity forward. You’re an entrepreneur- you know what it’s like to have that spark of inspiration, grasp a nascent idea and form it into a something marketable and remarkable. But you can’t be the only one conjuring up good ideas. Unfortunately, unlike other scalable internal processes, you can’t build an assembly line to mass-produce creativity. Or can you?
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Creativity Can’t Be Forced
Some academics argue against the idea of cultivating creativity in the workplace, contending that forced 5-minute brainstorming meetings with whiteboards isn’t a creative process, but rather an “anti-process”, as one marketing strategist puts it. “In order for businesses to truly embrace creativity, they must first embrace inspiration (and how it spontaneously occurs),” he says, “and then allow their employees the opportunity to free-associate when those moments occur which may be at the water cooler or at their desks or, most importantly, just daydreaming. Because it is only through the irrational state that free-association can generate seemingly illogical connections that the rational mind can then derive meaning. And, most importantly, the intended result: a new idea.”
Creativity Can Be Structured
On the other hand, there are those who advocate that using specific techniques can systematically produce groundbreaking ideas- no matter your creative inclinations. Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg, marketing professors, innovation gurus, and co-authors of the book, Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results, claim that a method called “Systematic Inventive Thinking” can “channel the ideation process in a structured way that overcomes brainstorming’s randomness, making people even more creative.”
Techniques such as “removing a seemingly essential element” from an existing product or process, separating and rearranging components, and interrelating previously disparate elements are just a few ways to manufacture creative ideas across an organization.
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Sure, it’s impossible to forcibly mass produce original thinking, but there are ways to encourage innovation and resourcefulness. For example, Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, allows employees to devote 10% of their work week to new ideas. Another solar panel company uses an online survey tool to allow employees to submit ideas. After others review them, they are able to win $500 in cash. Other companies provide employees with five “think time” days off.
Identify Creative Brokers
But no matter if you believe creativity is instinctive or that it can be learned through specific ways of thinking, an idea can’t stand alone. To truly scale creativity in an organization, you need to identify “creative brokers”. According to Bruce Nussbaum, author of Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire, these creative brokers are those in executive or managerial positions who can judge a good idea by it’s cover and can turn it into a tangible product through their connections to resources- resources like finances, marketing and engineering. Because without that liaison between a good idea (whether spontaneously inspired or methodically fabricated) and the resources to make it concrete, a creative culture is worthless.