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Get Creative: A Professor's Tips on Bringing Creativity to Your Business

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks

Even if you're not in a creative industry, creativity is still critical to success.

Whether it is innovating new ideas for products or services, or coming up with creative ways to solve problems, having a staff of employees who can think creatively could be the key to boosting your business's bottom line. 

Professor Peter Childs, the head of Imperial College London's School of Design Engineering, knows a lot about the benefits of incorporating creativity into an organization. He teaches a course on creative thinking and how professionals can apply various tools and techniques to solve problems, generate ideas and excel in their career.

We recently spoke with Childs about the importance of creativity and how you can best cultivate a creative culture in your business. Additionally, we asked him some rapid-fire questions about his career and advice he has received over the years.

Q: How critical is creativity to a business's success?

A: Business leader surveys consistently identify creativity as a key attribute [of success]. The Cox review indicated that 75 percent of turnover is typically associated with innovations from the last five years within a given organization.

Q: How can you incorporate creativity into your business, even if your business isn't necessarily a creative one?

A: All domains involve problem solving, so there is a role for creativity across all business activities, whether you are involved in the legal profession, social work, services or engineering. 

Q: When running a business, how much creative license should you give your employees?

A: If you are delivering a large program of defined work and already know what you are doing, then perhaps creativity can be reserved to problem solving and logging of ideas for future consideration. However, in general we all need ideas to improve on the status quo, and tackle challenges that arise in our daily activities.

Q: Are there tools that can spur your business's creativity?

A: After 70 years of significant research on creativity, advice abounds on principles to promote creativity. Some of my favorite tools and approaches include:

  • Ensure you have a mix of relaxation and concentration in your day. Concentration gets stuff you know how to do, done. But it is often in relaxation that the interplay between your subconscious and conscious thinking really gets going, and ideas seem to come from nowhere.
  • Keep a notebook, or some means of recording your ideas as they occur. Our working memory fades quickly, so it's important to write down or sketch your fabulous ideas. You can then review them later.
  • Creativity tools can be highly effective in helping you explore an idea space. I regularly use some of the types of brainstorming, six hats, morphological analysis and TRIZ.
  • Take things to pieces. Explore the function of stuff. See if you can figure out what it does, and if it can be improved or repurposed.

Q: Do you need to hire employees who are already creative, or is creativity something you can teach employees?

A: Both. To an extent, creativity is a commodity and we can hire people who already have the attributes that an organization is seeking. You can also augment your existing creativity. Some of the tools and suggestions made here can help. 

Q: What advice do you have for building a creative culture within your business?

A: First, run idea logs that show the original idea, its development and any follow up or closure of activity on that stream. Next, provide funds for teams to explore ideas. 

Don't give up on a nascent idea too early. It is essential to allow time for idea development before coming to a viewpoint. 

Q: How can you tell if too much creativity may be hurting your business's operations?

A: If your organization is consistently developing and pivoting as market needs and opportunities develop, then you evidently have it right. If your organization hasn't launched a significant innovation in years and is just relying on the creativity of a former generation, you know you've got an issue. 

Q: What are the things businesses do that discourage employees from being creative?

A: All the clichés – specifically the following:

  • Not-invented-here syndrome
  • Not resourcing ideas with time and funds
  • Being too swift to find the fault or flaw in a concept, without considering how to make it stronger 

Rapid-Fire 

Q: What piece of technology could you not live without?

A: My head – without it, no new ideas would be generated. 

Q: What is the best piece of career you have ever been given?

A: Do something you are really interested in. Engagement and innovation often go hand and hand. 

Q: What's the best book or blog you've read this year?

A: Alan Moore's "Do Design: Why Beauty is Key to Everything" (The Do Book Company, 2016) and Malcolm Gladwell's "David and Goliath" (Little, Brown and Company, 2013). Both excellent reads for very different reasons.

Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken professionally? Did it pay off?

A: Loaning one of my own companies the payroll for three months. It was a risk – month one was a lot of funds and a serious conversation with loved ones, month two meant most of our savings, and month three the lot. Then the money flowed into the company and all was OK. The company has great people and amazing technology – what's more is that the service the company provides actually helps reduce the energy requirement for a home, so there's a real societal benefit. 

Q: What's the one thing you want to make sure you accomplish this year?

A: So many. I want to see a Jane or Jason "Dyson" emerge from the Design Engineering School. I want Q-Bot to increase its impact by an order of magnitude. I also want to go for more tea and cake and help to build a gentler society.

Image Credit: Image courtesy of Peter Childs
Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks,
business.com Writer
See Chad Brooks's Profile
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has spent more than 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.