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Innovation and Best Practice
for Business Success

Established 1967

Twelve days of Christmas [Creativity]| Part two.

23rd November 2015 | Ros Taylor

At Ros Taylor Company we are looking forward to a really creative New Year and decided to prepare in advance. Using the 12 days of Christmas- yes we know it’s cheesy- we formulated what we need to do individually and as a company. So here’s our present to you 12 days with 12 steps to becoming more creative and leading edge (2/3).

On the 5th day of Christmas…
my true love sent to me 5 Gold Rings. At last an ornithological rest and a decent present.

As a child I always liked the 5 Gold Rings. It was easily remembered and gave respite before trying to remember the rest. It was always ‘rallentando’ so you could slow down and contemplate. In terms of creativity, slowing down and relaxing increase the chances of achieving epiphanies; the aha moments of clear insight.

When travelling around the country launching my book Creativity at Work, I asked various groups when they were at their most creative, when ideas come to them most. The replies were always around waking up or just before falling asleep, in the bath or shower or while swimming or running. People were rarely at their most creative at work. So this is the challenge for the workplace – when you really need ideas for projects how can a team become relaxed enough to have breakthrough ideas….without going home?

I was fascinated by this concept of relaxation and its correlation with idea production. Apparently there is a small lozenge shaped part of the brain called the anterior superior temporal gyrus positioned above our right ear. If we were linked to an electro-encephalogram then this area would light up as we make connections and achieve insights.

Now relaxation is useful for so many things: we live longer to the tune of 7 years on average, we are more likely to be positive in outlook, and in leadership it is essential. If we are anxious or stressed then decision making becomes skewed, emotional and knee- jerk. If you are a leader rational thinking is what you want to achieve and your thinking will be hijacked if you are stressed.

Companies often go on retreats away from the workplace to achieve tranquillity. Sadly that is only once or twice a year so what happens in between if there are problems to be solved and ideas to be created? Carving a piece of the day or week – Rallendanto time– for relaxed brainstorming would introduce creativity into everyday workplace culture.

The 6th day of Christmas…
Ros Taylor gave to me,  6 geese a- laying……

One of the crucial things about ideas, creativity and innovation at work is that all eggs should not be placed in one basket. Many ideas should be on the boil with some being piloted while others are being implemented.

A great example of this methodology is from Howard Schultz CEO of Starbucks. He wanted to boost Starbucks’ ailing fortunes and after a visit to Italy where he first smelt the coffee, he came up with the idea of selling yoghurt ice cream in his stores.  He had loved it and bought the very expensive equipment on his return to the United States. These yoghurt ice cream makers were installed in all stores in the U.S. and staff had to be trained how to use and clean them. Cleaning was very important because, if not pristine, this machine would start to smell. All of this was adding hours onto already long staff days but even with their best efforts at cleanliness there still lurked a milky odour that was starting to overwhelm the coffee. Even worse, the public didn’t like it as much as Howard and stayed away in their droves.

Three months after buying and installing the yoghurt machines Howard Schultz ordered their removal. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘it was fast failure. You win some you lose some.’ He mentioned that some organisations hang on to practices that have ceased to be useful a very long time ago in a kind of ‘wishful’ thinking.

He lost a few million on that deal but his other ‘on the boil’ idea was instant coffee. It took him 20 years to perfect, but will net him a billion dollars this year.

So creativity at work is about having many ideas in your innovative basket.

On the 7th day of Christmas…

So on this 7th day let’s look at how your creativity at work can go swimmingly well.

The secret is to be creative as often as possible. Here are some thoughts on how to become more creative in your workplace:

Give yourself time to think. Cease to be instant in your response to crises.

Take five minutes- just 5 minutes- to think through all ramifications. And you don’t have to do this alone. Phone a friend for an alternative view.

Learn the skill of Mind Mapping as it shortens the time for putting ideas together. Everything is on one page with ideas radiating from a central point. As a result you begin to see associations you haven’t seen before.

Use Mind Mapping when drilling for details on an issue and it can be drawn on a flipchart for all to see. I usually Mind Map our business plan as it places all business projects on one flipchart page to be brought out at points throughout the year to ensure we are all on track. It can also be added to easily and contributions welcomed from all.

Mind Mapping is also wonderful for writing reports and presentations. No more blank pages as you Mind Map everything you know about a topic. And you can follow up this ‘brain dump’ by reorganising the information afterwards. Read Mind Mapping by Tony Buzan, BBC Books.

Brainstorm ideas and problems with your team at each meeting. Even five minutes at the end will produce creative solutions. Problems do not have to be solved on your own. I have suggested a ‘bug list’ to many of the teams I work with. They take a few minutes to list things that have bugged them during the week then quickly brainstorm ways to zap the bugs.

All this creativity sounds great I hear you say but what should I stop to allow time for it? Everyone is busy but creativity is so important at work that you do have to free up time. Meetings are often criticised as time guzzlers: too many and too boring. Perhaps attendance at these could be at least questioned then reduced or delegated.

Starting and finishing meetings on time would help too. E-mails are another bane of people’s lives. Being copied in on everything is time-consuming as you feel that you must read them all in case you miss something. Limit this activity where possible. Have a time of day to read emails so this activity does not encroach on others. If you focus your team, company or organisation on creativity as a priority then you will find a way to make time. We always find time for important things.

 On the 8th day of Christmas…

The real secret of creativity at work is to milk the thoughts, ideas and the ability to solve problems already present in your workforce.

We know that everyone is creative so why wouldn’t you tap into a resource you are already paying? Creative thinking does not rely on past experience or known facts. It is about visualising a new product or a new future for ourselves and others and working out how to get there.

It is about exploring possibilities, the ‘what if’ of the imagination. It is amorphous, ambiguous, open ended … and a bit scary if you have never encountered or never been given the permission to pursue that kind of thinking. It is certainly not typical thinking found in the workplace where there are finite outcomes, focused aims and objectives with performance indicators and monitoring. So I can understand why there is a reluctance to embrace creative thinking with the whiff of the insurgent about it.

Once unleashed, how can you control it? This is a legitimate question as you can’t just let ‘creatives’ take over the workplace so that every idea is pursued in the hope that one works. Some judgement is necessary. On reflection I believe that the scariness of creative thinking leads to two reactions from organisations.

  1. They hand over the mantle to research and development departments which are tasked with coming up with new ways of doing things. Or since everything is now online, the IT department is landed with ‘leading edge’ initiatives.
  2. They invite creative consultants to facilitate the new business plan, future company strategy, change programme or new product development – and then disappear.

This ‘peripheral’ input insulates creativity from the rest of the organisation. It might be very helpful, but leaving creativity to others misses a trick. Those who are part of the company, who are carrying out the work, probably have 25 ideas a day but no one has asked them for their input and so their creativity never sees the light of day.

And since we know that everyone is creative, just in different ways, why wouldn’t you tap into this resource on your doorstep? A colleague was telling me that her company had hired an impressive group of American consultants at great expense to help each department with their business planning. Her group was very receptive to what the consultants were trying to achieve and produced some interesting ideas for the next financial year. When I asked if her group were using any of the techniques initiated by the consultants or whether they had integrated creativity into their meetings on a regular basis, she told me reluctantly that they had not.

They hadn’t been trained or encouraged to do that. What a lot of money to spend on a missed opportunity. Get the training and do it yourselves by reading the next days of Christmas.

Next week: Day nine to day twelve! 

Save 20% on Creativity at Work when you use code: 12DAYS at checkout