1 Your management style
A global IBM survey from a few years ago found that CEOs rated creativity as the single most desirable business quality, and top creative firms agree that best way to develop a more creative workforce is for management to lead by example. Openness – one of the so-called big five personality traits - is essential for creativity so if you’re more of an autocratic leader, consider how you can welcome ideas about new products, PR, marketing and so on from all parts of your business. An easy thing to do is share the best ideas happening in the business, weekly or monthly, and ask for new feedback and input. As Hemingway said: “The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them.”
2 You have comfortable clone syndrome
It’s easy when hiring to give all the jobs to nice guys, yes men and women, or people just like you. But some of the most useful creative ideas will likely come from people with completely different viewponts. No one wants a domineering, irascible tyrant but people with varied backgrounds, interests and opinions will throw some interesting firecrackers into the mix.
3 Your office You don’t need beanbags and a three-storey slide to make your workplace somewhere that creativity can thrive (in fact research suggests that ‘fun’ environments only contribute to about 10% of what happens in creative sessions), but what is important is an environment where teams can interact and share ideas. Try to create spaces to allow for informal, inter-departmental ‘collisions’: who, after all, is to say that Tom in sales doesn’t have a great idea for Anna in product development? Whatever size your team or business, getting opportunities for different points of view is key. Can you invite suppliers, customers or others in a shared building to contribute or find ways to network?
4 Your meetings are too big
That said, you don’t want 50 people in your creativity sessions. Jeff Bezos, the billionaire Amazon supremo, has a two-pizza rule for creative meetings: if the team can’t be fed on two pizzas, there are too many people there. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for creative meetings, but 4-10 people is often a good number to allow everyone airtime.
5 Your facilitator needs to be like Switzerland
Brainstorming is the default setting for most businesses who want to bolster their creativity, and while there are advanced methods and multiple tools that can lead to better results, group brainstorming can be a gentle way to start. But it will often fall flat if no one is in charge of steering the ship. A good facilitator needs to be like Switzerland – neutral so they can manage the extraverts, encourage more timid members to speak up and help ideas to take shape.
6 You’ve got a fuzzy front end
It’s human nature to want to dive into a solution but you need to make sure that you are fully armed with all the data first. Good insight will tell you what your customer does, what his/her pain points are, what your competitors are doing and a whole lot more. You can’t create the perfect app for travellers if you don’t already know how they travel, what apps and devices they use, what they’re prepared to pay and a dozen other things. As Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 7 You think failure is a dirty word
Being allowed to fail is hugely important if you want your team to be creative. The trick, of course, is not to risk the house on a wild idea but to apply some of your edgier, more out-there thinking to smaller projects and embrace the uncertainty that comes with it. When you do fail, learn from your mistakes and move on, and rest assured that serial entrepreneurs (like you) often have hundreds of failures.
8 You’re in a rush
People often think that a creativity session will lead to a game-changing idea in an hour. While that’s possible, what’s more likely is that you’ll leave with some thoughts bubbling around in your head that will develop subliminally over the coming days and weeks. It’s called incubation time, and if you give it a chance it will often result in a Eureka! moment. Build time for it into your own and other’s thought processes.
9 You already know what works
If you have a successful business, it’s easy to keep on doing just what you’re doing – but your competitors and start-ups are circling. It’s imperative that you work on new products, or that you contemplate creative ways to improve your existing ones (or the way you market them) to retain your competitive edge. Complacency kills.
10 You don’t get out enough
It’s extremely common for SME owners (myself included) to become so focused on their business that they sideline everything else, and yet studies show that the more people diversify their interests the better their ideas will become. An article you read about ancient Rome or the play you just saw about military veterans might all just seem mildly diverting at the time, but it’s all brain food, and the more stimuli you absorb the more dots you’ll have to join when you need a new idea.