Recently, I published a piece on how to increase creativity and innovation in the classroom. While it is essential for teachers to foster a creative and innovative mindset in their students, it’s just as crucial for leaders to nurture the same mindset in their teams.
“Research shows 52 percent of employees are frustrated at work because leaders don’t support their ideas or empower their creativity.” This statement was at the beginning of an article written by Michelle Smith. I know that I have been in that 52% in the past, as I’m sure many of you have been. The article was more about generating and growing ideas in the workplace, yet most of it could be applied to professional development. How can we cultivate innovation in ourselves and our teams?
“Leading is about more than just hitting your objectives; it’s about helping your team discover, develop, and unleash its unique form of brilliance.” Todd Henry, Herding Tigers
Just like students in a classroom, adults have some specific needs when it comes to enhancing their creative and innovative thinking skills. If you are a leader, it’s one of your responsibilities to provide them with, at least, these four:
- Clear objectives (direct and straightforward) with some structure AND freedom: If you have read any of my former blog posts, sat in one of my workshops, read any of my tweets, or happened to talk to me for more than five minutes, you know that I’m a huge proponent of student-driven learning. A common misconception of student-driven learning, however, is that it is unstructured. Truly active student-driven learning has quite a bit of structure. It may be in the background, but it’s there guiding the learning.
Similarly, creative minds thrive when they have a clear objective to meet that come with that structure, plus freedom to create/innovate in the way that calls to them. I have a friend who thinks very visually and draws out his thinking processes. It’s impressive to watch, and I wish I were a bit more like that, but I create best with words. Give us the same objectives, along with some freedom, and we will create different projects. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other; they are just different. As leaders, we need to give that direction and structure, and then get out of the way so our team members can create in freedom. What fabrics do you have in place to give people the freedom to create? What still needs to be explored and established?
- Support and Trust: Have you heard of Genius Hour/20% Time/Passion Projects? The idea is centered on Google’s 20% time that it allows its employees to spend on a project of personal interest. The founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin said “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google,” they wrote. “This empowers them to be more creative and innovative.” It’s the support and trust they receive from the leaders, along with the passion and excitement they have from pursuing something of their own that leads to higher creative and innovative energy. These projects aren’t just for Google and the elementary classroom. What if every leader had their Passion Project? What if they encouraged every employee to pursue a Passion Project?
- Encouragement/Motivation: The leaders of any successful organization know the importance of encouraging and motivating their teams. It starts by creating a culture of trust and growth that allows people to be comfortable being vulnerable and taking risks. This can only happen when the leader models these characteristics and leads by example. The people I work with believe in my experience, strategies, and practice to allow me to create plans alongside them to further their learning and growth. While I take personal satisfaction in every area in which I create, it’s the fact that people encourage and believe in me that pushes me to continue. Which leads me to wonder, am I doing enough to promote and believe in those around me? Who are your believers? And how do you create?
- Challenge: I thrive on new challenges. I think it’s one of the parts of my work that I enjoy the most. I have never “niched down” because I don’t want to miss out on exciting new opportunities. I pretty much love anything to do with education and/or leadership. If I wasn’t challenged, I think my work would become stagnant. The challenges lead me to learn, grow, reflect, and create. They stretch my thinking and usually necessitate innovative thinking. I recently saw this quote by Richard Branson, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – the learn how to do it later.” I’ve done this more than once! I thrive on this kind of challenge. Not everyone does. That is where you, as the leader, have to find the right creative minds to pair with the right problems. How do you identify your risk-takers? How are you encouraging people to rise to the challenges? What challenges are you personally accepting for creation and innovation?
Frank Addante, the founder of Rubicon Project, says, “Real innovators are not cogs in a wheel but are wheel makers.” Just like good leaders never stop learning, they should never stop creating either.