Creativity separates the great from the good. Most growing businesses are teeming with the promise of the total-quality axiom: “Every day, in every way, I get better and better.” But occasionally getting better is not good enough. A totally new approach may be required to meet today’s market challenge – an approach that requires the willingness to take a true creative leap to a new level of service or product.
Facilitating the creative energy in your company is challenging and rewarding. As a manager, it is difficult to step away from the day-to-day wish of just getting people to do the job as assigned with some vigor, accuracy and enthusiasm. To wish for creativity almost seems unreasonable. Yet, you know you need that creative energy from everyone.
Here are a few key things that increase the probability of getting new ideas to flow in your organization:
- Listen actively
- Demonstrate absurdity
- Reward failure
Active listening is where the facilitative manager starts. Know that most ideas will never be expressed. Those that are will frequently come out as questions or idea rejections. “We don’t have the money to do mass mailings, do we?” might mask the idea to send out thank you notes to your best customers. When asked a question, learn to probe. Ask the reason for the question. When you ask a question, practice saying why you are asking. You are probably hiding your own ideas! Research shows that 90 percent of questions in English are ideas in disguise.
Demonstrating absurdity is a lot of fun. If an idea is not at least a little odd to start with, there is no hope for it. The most creative groups laugh at themselves. To get ahead of the competition, you must walk on paths that feel uncomfortable. Start wishing for the impossible. Replace the negative words “we can’t” or “we don’t do it that way” with “I wish” or “How to” or “What if.” You send a different message to people when you say, “What if we found the money to…?” rather than, “We don’t have the money for…!” My experience is that organizations find the resources when they have a shared dream that is worth sacrifice. Will Rogers said, “American management fails to shoot the moon, not because it fails to aim but because it aims at its foot.”
Reward failure in little ways. Every act or idea deserves three positive statements or pluses from you. Plus one validates the person, plus two validates the idea and plus three stretches your own thinking. With unconditional positive statements on the table, go ahead and express your wishes and concerns, not in a corrective manner but as facilitative statements, such as, “How could we get at least one other person to check your work before it reaches the customer?” not, “From now on, I’ll have to check your work.” Expressing your concerns not as negatives but in problem-solving language opens up new opportunities for thinking. It guides and directs ideas. It depersonalizes the error. We must acknowledge our errors in order to learn from them and to move onto the next experiment – acknowledging the error in the error and the goodness in the person.