Innovation remains an important priority for enterprises small and large as well as a major driver of our economic prosperity, if not even more important than ever. As a result, individuals and leaders continuously seek to increase creative output and improve innovation results. Yet we find ourselves, especially as women, mired in the never-ending search for continuous improvement – those elusive productivity gains allowing us to maximize our time and how we allocate this precious resource. Efficiency and effectiveness are top of mind for many of us daily, and on some days may feel like hourly.
However, as decades of research informs, we need space – slack time, time for messy thinking, time to learn – to fuel our creativity. Where does this leave us? Applying techniques from recent neurological and creativity research with our experiences helping senior executives, below is a short list of disciplined, proven practices you can put in place. Creative thinking certainly comes easier to some than others, but every one of us is capable – this is not something for a privileged few.
■ Challenge the status quo. Think about the core beliefs that drive how you and your company operate – what do you believe are truths. These can include how consumers behave, what can and cannot be done, etc. For example, when Steve Jobs opened Apple retail stores, every analyst on Wall Street said this was a bad idea because consumers did not want to purchase computers in a store. Our core beliefs, especially those held over long periods of time, often reflect orthodoxies – barriers that stifle creativity and get you stuck in repeated patterns. Spend time alone or with your teams conducting this simple exercise:
– Step 1. What are our core beliefs about [select a topic: e.g., consumers, operations, processes]?
– Step 2. Introduce the concept of orthodoxies. These are often the monuments in your organizations and your life that we fear changing most.
– Step 3. Ask yourself and your team, what if these were not true (some of course will remain true as not all will be orthodoxies)? What would you do differently? What creative options would you consider?
■ Reframe questions. Very often the same question is asked repeatedly resulting in a similar set of answers. By reframing questions, asking them differently, you can get to surprisingly creative answers. Neuroscientists have recently connected perception and creativity in our brains. This means that the more you change how you look at a problem or ask a question differently, the more creative your responses will be.
■ Get out and experience. As adults, the most powerful learning experiences occur as just that – experiences. The most effective approach to ultimately changing long-held beliefs is to experience something that challenges how you think and what you believe to be true. These simple tactics such as visiting stores, calling our own company as a consumer and so on are extremely powerful yet so often ignored because of time constraints and end up on the bottom of many well-intentioned to-do lists.
Consider making these tactics a discipline just like many others on your calendar. For example:
■ Find time at a cadence that works for you and schedule a small amount of time for these types of activities. For example, each Friday or one Friday a month give yourself permission and time for creative exploration,
■ When problem solving and brainstorming, begin to incorporate these techniques into your daily work and for those on your teams so they become a natural extension and not something intentional, and
■ Lastly, briefly reflect occasionally on their effectiveness and how you might improve.
You’ll be surprised how these simple techniques can have dramatic effects.
Marla M. Capozzi is a senior expert and a leader of McKinsey & Company’s Global Innovation Practice based in Boston.