Name any position, in any industry, and creativity may be the single most valuable skill you can bring to the table. Because creativity means more than coming up with ideas from scratch, it also means looking at facts and problems in fresh new ways or improving on “the way it’s always been done.” Creativity drives success. And that’s a good thing because creative thinking is a skill that can be developed with the right management style. Here are some tips on how to get employees to feel more comfortable thinking “outside the box” whatever their position or job description.
First of all, humans are born creative –at least until bad teachers and peer pressure almost succeed in repressing this wonderful quality– so our natural tendency for creative thinking just needs to be enabled. One way to achieve this is to empower, free, guide and encourage.
Empower employees by explaining they have responsible authority over their project or task. Make them feel they own it. This alone will work wonders.
Then, free them to express their thoughts and ideas openly. Make sure you listen respectfully and without judgement.
Next, guide them only as necessary to help them develop the solution by themselves. Give them a little push in the right direction and step back when their engine gets going.
Finally, encourage them with praise, respect and most importantly, public credit for their achievements.
The beautiful thing about managing for creativity is watching its snowball effect at work. As people develop their creativity, it builds their self-confidence to be more creative next time. It works better and better with every completed project. Eventually, you’ve outdone the harm of all the bad teachers and peer pressure.
(Full disclosure: The writer is our creative director, so it’s his job to manage the creativity of very creative people. To the criticism: “that’s like helping fish swim!” he responds that a football coach working with football players is plainly qualified to teach football. So there.)