Do you kill or cultivate creativity?

Creativity is the most important skill for leaders in the modern world of work. It is essential that organisations encourage creativity to drive innovation.

Unfortunately, leaders often kill rather than cultivate creativity.

Do you exhibit these symptoms at work?

  • You are the main contributor when solving problems in your team
  • You tend to know the ‘right answer’ and share it immediately
  • You quickly judge and evaluate new ideas and suggestions

Normally these behaviours are a great strength in leaders.

You have developed expertise and intuition over the years – you often do know the right answer.

You are a leader – it is your job to be decisive and to judge and evaluate ideas.

However, when the situation is complex or ambiguous, these normal leadership strengths can kill creativity at work.

How can I cultivate creativity?

1. Establish Ground Rules

If you need different thinking, then you need different rules. The world’s most creative companies recognise the importance of Ground Rules for creativity.

Typical Ground Rules that encourage creativity include…

A focus on quantity, rather than quality of ideas
Everyone can and should contribute to the discussion
There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers
Nobody ‘owns’ an idea – anyone can build on suggestions
The encouragement of supportive language and behaviour

Do you have Ground Rules when thinking creatively at work? If you don't… make some. Make some Ground Rules that work for you and your teams.

2. Know when to contribute

A good leader of creativity understands that they need to direct and manage the creative process but not dominate it.

Your best contributions should come at the beginning and the end of the process.

At the beginning of problem solving it is vital that you set the direction of what you want to achieve then take a step back and allow your team to generate different ideas. Guide and support the team – rather than taking the lead in producing the solutions.

Your role needs to focus on thoughtfully and objectively providing critique, judgement and evaluation. This is where your intuition and expertise can add the most value. However, remember – evaluation should always come last.

How to evaluate and critique ideas is a skill in itself.

3. Critique with care

The critiquing of ideas is a fundamental part of the creative process. Do it well and the team is energised. Do it badly and the next time you try to think creatively the team will be wary and risk-averse.

To critique carefully and efficiently here are some simple guidelines.

Not every idea needs to be critiqued.

Instead try to focus on the positives of the different ideas and recognise that ‘bad’ ideas have elements that can be useful. Recognise the contributions of all the team members.

Leading for creativity

According to the PwC Workforce of the Future survey, low confidence, nervousness about the future and uncertainty all kill the creativity and innovation that individuals and organisations need to succeed.

If creativity is vital for innovation, then this is a skill that must be mastered.

Leadership behaviours that serve you well in normal conditions can be a weakness when creativity is crucial.

Provide the right environment by establishing Ground Rules.

Focus your efforts at the beginning and end of the creative process.

Cultivate, rather than kill creativity

Dr Mark Batey, CPsychol AFBPsS, is a creativity specialist at Alliance Manchester Business School.

Creativity: The capacity in individuals and teams to develop ideas to solve problems and exploit opportunities

Innovation: The application of creativity to give rise to a concept, product, process or service that is new and better

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