​Employees’ creativity is being ruthlessly stifled by “efficiency”

A recent survey of 1,500 CEOs ranked creativity as the top skill for business leaders, and while innovation and creativity are highly valued, they are still underdeveloped by companies. Even with the best innovation strategies, companies struggle to create new ideas and products until their teams become more creative. The reason teams lack creativity is that managers fail to understand how creativity really works.

As design professors, we’ve found in our work with companies that most managers who are frustrated with their employees’ lack of creativity build day-to-day management systems and processes that don’t reflect their innovation goals. The hectic nature of corporate work and red tape stifles nascent creativity, be it boring in-office discussions, a remote workday full of meetings, or advanced software that monitors employee “productivity.” In fact, one study found that “the largest single behavioral change [during the pandemic] has been a statistically significant drop in curiosity” among employees.

This is as expected. The amount of time we spend in meetings has tripled since the pandemic hit. Managers use time tracking software to make sure employees are doing something or anything that seems useful.

The aforementioned expectations about what work looks like are stifling creativity for all. Currently, organizations should avoid using efficiency and productivity to define work, because creativity is rarely linked to efficiency. When it comes to innovation, effectiveness is what counts. If imagination and inspiration are fueled by rich, unexpected input from the mind—experiences and insights that enable us to see things in new ways—then the challenge here is to deliberately seek out new inputs and give them Allow yourself the time and space to integrate this information into new connections. The creativity that leads to breakthrough innovations often doesn’t look like work, let alone productive work.

With our help, dozens of organizations have shifted their perception from innovation efficiency to effectiveness. These include helping financial service companies reach young savers by learning how Urban Outfitters responds to the changing retail environment and cultivating profit concepts; cooperating with well-known golf platforms to let more young people be interested in interest in golf; a partnership with the Nippon Foundation to reshape workplace communication by spending a day with a doula, during which people will learn, ” “Scripts” enable people to cope successfully with stressful situations.

What are the commonalities behind these unique experiences? Get out of the office (or home workspace) and unearth unexpected insights into the world. We call this the disciplined search for unexpected information that inspires. Designers and “creatives” are always on the lookout for new inputs, thereby leaving their own creative output to posterity. Yet for some reason, “inspiration” in a corporate setting basically refers to those tacky posters in the lobby that say things like “teamwork” and “courage.” From a cognitive and operational standpoint, inspiration is actually an obsession with an individual’s mental input.

You might be thinking, wow, my organization needs a real culture change for this to happen! How should individual managers go about affecting change in this area? Says GM CEO Mary Barra: “They say [culture] can’t be changed, or it will take 10 years. To me, culture is action, and it can be changed immediately.” It allows employees to deviate from traditional codes of conduct and experiment with behaviors that produce new results. In the end, this approach of starting small can lead to big changes in the end.

It appears we need a broader cultural transformation to achieve the above, so what fundamental changes do we recommend managers promote across their teams? Here are five strategies to try.

Create lots of ideas, both good and bad

The legendary Stanford professor Robert McKim is responsible for helping countless innovations and innovators go out into the world. Whenever a student asks him what he thinks about a new idea, he replies, “Give me three ideas.” He knows that choice is often the key to a breakthrough.

Astro Teller, CEO of Google’s X lab, also known as the “moon factory,” agrees. He told us: “I would ask the team for five ideas so often that the team would actually try to play around. Besides the favorite idea, they would give me four ‘stupid’ ideas that they didn’t realize To: Among these stupid ideas, there is often one that is as good as their favorite. Forcing employees to come up with different options often improves the outcome.” Indeed, as leadership strategy coach David Noble and Carol Kauffman, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, recently noted: “Good managers create alternatives so that when opportunities arise or crises arise, they can adjust in real time and take the best course of action. .”

Our students and clients also find great value in this approach to creative quotas: deliberately creating lots of options for solving a problem, rather than dwelling on the “right” answer all the time. “The first four or five ideas were the hardest to conceive, but then I thought, ‘I don’t have to follow these rules,’” one Singaporean executive told us. “When I told myself I could try to think of illegal options, Ideas come out.” She quickly discovered: “I’m not actually doing anything illegal, but the thing is that breaking the rules that I’ve always followed really opens up a lot of possibilities.”

If the team is solving a difficult problem facing the company, one of the smartest questions a manager can ask is: “What solutions are we still trying?” Battle the way forward.

Make room for failure

Everyone is afraid of the word: failure. Of course, for some institutions, failure is unacceptable. However, just because failure is unacceptable in some places doesn’t mean it’s true everywhere. In fact, we challenge managers to designate areas where failure is tolerated and even encouraged.

Our friend and longtime collaborator, Philippe Barreaud, head of Michelin’s Customer Innovation Laboratory, took the extraordinarily bold move of setting a minimum failure threshold for his innovation department. Threshold on number of times: “If you consider the prior probability, the probability of a breakthrough innovation is extremely low, which means you will experience a lot of failures. Therefore, we set a failure goal for the team: we know that if the number of failures is not Beyond a certain benchmark ratio, then we haven’t explored broadly enough. If we’re not failing, then we’re failing!”

Of course, in some areas, we still have to be steady and steady. Sometimes, however, taking no risk is the riskiest move.

Stop Playing Agenda Tetris

Most teams actually play what we call a game of “scheduling Tetris”, filling every spare spot with possible meetings, as if finding space for each meeting is the point of the game. However, a common complaint people hear is “I don’t have any time”.

The most far-sighted managers set aside time for the unplanned. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has a fairly well-known practice of setting aside two days with no events scheduled to explore the internet and find new opportunities. Whether it was the beginning of Amazon’s establishment, or when Amazon’s market value was 17 times that of Barnes & Noble (Barnes & Noble) and it was regarded as its primary “competitor”, Bezos has never changed this habit.

Unless your industry is completely different, your team will face these issues sooner or later, which could be next week, next month, or next year. To solve these problems, they will need space to develop multiple solutions and conduct experiments to gain valuable data on their best path forward. Let them set aside time now, or Tetris will start competing with it for calendar space.

If you don’t set aside time in advance, don’t be too surprised when your team tells you “no time to innovate” when a crisis hits. Small changes can have a huge impact. An Irish IT executive complained about her current situation, saying she didn’t have time to try new innovations we taught her. “Wednesday morning, I’m at my 32nd meeting of the week.” Instead, we suggest, she writes a love letter to her future self. We said, “Let’s look at the calendar and find the next available time slot, maybe two weeks away. Let’s create a new event called ‘Explore Time.'”

When we revisited 1 month later, she looked like a different person. “I always felt like the calendar was preventing me from trying new things. I never realized that I could modify it and protect myself the space to try different ways of working.” Realizing that it’s up to me to create the space and develop something that really makes a difference activities to set her free. If we want innovation to thrive in teams, we need to set aside time for the core activities we think we need, long before we realize we need new thinking to solve specific problems.

Emphasis on “discovering problems”

There’s an old saying in leadership: “Don’t give me the problem, give me the solution.” But truly innovative managers don’t say that. While everyone acknowledges the importance of problem-solving, few practice the subtle art of problem-finding. Innovation managers realize that problems are necessary to develop innovative solutions, and they foster problem discovery across teams.

Long before computer programming was a common skill, Robert McKim was asking students to keep a “worry list” of their own. He told his students to jot down what was bothering them, the things that “froze” them, because he knew that focusing on problems would provide the breeding ground for the seeds of innovation to germinate. The reason Apple built the iPhone was that Steve Jobs and a host of other executives thought phones were “bad shit.” Tony Fadell invented the Nest thermostat because he was fed up with the unseasonably cold first nights at a Tahoe ski lodge because he could only adjust the thermostat after he arrived.

Many organizations have ‘suggestion boxes’ or ‘idea contests’. We recommend permanently placing a “problem box” next to these devices.

A counterintuitive but highly effective strategy is to delay deciding which new solution to pursue. Our obsession with efficiency is most pronounced during the period of idea selection, as we seek what psychologists call cognitive closure: unresolved things are painful! However, the smartest decision the team can make is to wait.

After sharing ideas, schedule another time to make a decision. Leaving questions “unanswered” triggers what is known as the Zeigarnik effect, named after psychologist Bluma Ziegarnik. People’s working memory keeps thinking about the problem, often leading to better solutions.

The strategies we’ve covered above are designed to help your team muster the energy needed to create something new. If your day job doesn’t support creativity, neither can your big dreams.

Ultimately, it’s all about redefining the way you think about “work” and allowing your colleagues and employees to do the same. If work continues to revolve around efficiency-oriented metrics, such as response times to Slack messages and the number of meetings attended, then you will continue to squander the enormous creative potential your employees possess. However, if you start thinking about effectiveness—by teasing the world for rich feedback that drives new thinking, or urging your team to come up with a lot of solutions to a problem before focusing on the right answer—then the balance of innovation will kick in. Lean towards you.

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