Many of the activities and strategies we use to innovate and manage are actually road blocks to creativity and innovation. Certainly, the enforcement of a time line and being cost conscience, are important, but only in respect to their appropriate place in the life cycle of a product or service. When applied to the creative and innovative phases in this life cycle, they are disruptive and cause sub-optimization.
Innovation is a creative process that requires open-mindedness and a safe environment. Creativity and innovation are processes that rely upon failure and the ability to learn from failure. You cannot create or innovate where failure is unacceptable or penalized.
Formatted business meetings and project management meetings are not events for innovation. They are events for business management. Important? Yes, but not in the innovative process. In these venues, failure is a negative thing and, “when will the project be completed?”, is the primary question. In the innovative stages of a project “what to do?” or “how to do it?” are the main questions. Other thoughts get in the way.
What I am about to say will make control oriented managers uncomfortable. You cannot control creativity, you can only feed it or starve it. When a work group or team is in the creative or innovative mode, just get out-of-the-way. Command and control must give way to facilitation. You are better off guarding the door to keep creativity starving people and systems out until it is time for them.
When a work group or team is working in the creative and innovative phases of a project, questions like who gets the credit, cost, who is smarter, and how fast can we get done, take a back seat to collaboration. It is an inclusive environment instead of an exclusive one.
Here are some ideas to support creativity and innovation. First, casual dialogue centered loosely around a topic opens up the possibility of seeing things from multiple perspectives, thus eliminating an error in parallax. This is the way great minds like Einstein’s worked. It is also how high-performance work teams think.
It’s not about discussing a specific aspect of the project so much as it is a general meandering dialogue. There is more storytelling and analogies than would take place in a typical development or project meeting. Meetings away from one’s work desk or controls are great for this type of thinking.
It is a safe environment where people are allowed to get out of the box. People who are not the exerts on a particular topic get to offer their perspective, forcing the experts on that topic to think through a response to their questions and suggestions. It is a movement away from what we think we believe, to true understanding. The result is innovation and creativity in motion.
Second, there need to be creativity/innovation zones in the work areas. These are spaces where folks can talk, argue and “sharpen the sword” with each other. Employees do not go there to work, they go there to think creatively. This space is divided into group “think tank” areas and individual “thinking out of the box” areas. They are not anyone’s personal space, they are not scheduled spaces, and they are only for the creative/innovative processes and folks.
Lastly, encourage dialog between workgroup/team members that have little format, other that a place and time. As a line manager, you may want to stay out of these meetings and be informed by way standing project meetings later. This is definitely a “watched pot never boils” situation. Manage creativity and innovation by staying out of the middle of it. This means facilitation instead of control.