Creative businesses enjoy the best results: they have innovative employees, popular products, and high sales. But there are definitely right ways and wrong ways to build a creative business. Companies need to see the value in the creative process and then create a culture of innovation by encouraging new ideas and giving employees the time and resources required to explore them.
There are many reasons why companies might want to invest in the creative process. They might want to future-proof their organizations by coming up with new and exciting products that will drive sales in the future. Or maybe they want to encourage employee participation in hopes of driving engagement and retention. Whatever the reason may be for boosting creativity, there are tangible benefits for both employees and companies.
To create a sustainable creative process, it must ladder up to larger goals. Just as with any other business outcome, the creative process needs to be treated seriously. For example, a company may choose to apply the SMART framework to creative endeavors. This means that these goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive. Using this to the creative process might look like: “Here at X Company, each department pitches three ideas for new product lines each quarter. From those ideas, the CEO selects five that are presented to the board of directors.” Getting to this stage takes a fair amount of time and culture shifts, so we break down the requirements below:
Employees need to be encouraged to explore new ideas. This means not overburdening them with meetings that zap them of energy and leave them with no time to contemplate ideas that might propel the business forward. So, just as businesses need to operationalize the creative process to make it a reality, employees need to. It needs to be baked into their day to day roles and become a part of their review criteria. If employees know that part of the way they are assessed in their roles has to do with their creative output, then a company will attract more creative employees from the outset and get creativity on their radar from day one.
Say you create an internal pitch competition, make sure the prize is substantial, and really makes a material difference for employees. If a small company cannot afford a large cash prize, think about other things that might motivate employees. This might be additional days off (because taking time off certainly fuels the creative process even further), a gift card provided by a customer, tickets to the conference of their choice, or a small raise for the winner(s) of a pitch competition. Creativity pays dividends for businesses, so it’s time to survey employees if needed to make sure incentives are aligned appropriately.
Idea generation is the first step to eventually getting to a winning idea. It’s like turning on a faucet: more might come out compared to what you need, but it’s certainly better to have more than less. Ideas lead to more ideas. And even the strangest ideas can be a worthwhile exercise to develop a team’s thought process further. But eventually, it becomes time to whittle the ideas down and figure out which ones are viable. This is an important distinction for a company that wants to encourage the creative process: not every idea is a good idea, but exploring several options is worth the time and effort.
The creative process is much more than a thought exercise. It takes time to get right and must be tethered to the calendar to ensure it crosses the finish line because a rushed idea isn’t necessarily the best you can create. And an idea that simmers for too long can become either diluted or irrelevant. You must balance giving too little and too much time to think about and refine ideas. Inspiration can arise at any time, so employees must have enough freedom to take on other tasks to clear their minds and use different skill sets. Sticking to a reasonable timeline provides strict enough design constraints to ensure you will solidify your thinking while it is still actionable.
If a business wants to drive creativity, they must standardize the process. All employees must understand what’s required for a full submission in an internal pitch competition and what the judges are looking for. This process can only work if it is entirely fair and available to all employees. You never know what an unsuspecting employee might have swirling around in their head, so this isn’t time to play favorites. Giving them space and structure to put their creative process on display helps bring innovative ideas into the open.
Another side of standardization is operationalizing the process. As we’ve mentioned, creativity begets creativity. When an employee is immersed in a creative environment and is aware that idea generation is part of their success in their role, they will always think outside of the box. Their entire approach will change, and they will start to err on the side of experimentation.
This is of great value to each and every company. Having a workforce that is wired for creativity means that products and processes will never get stale, meaning that the company will always continue to grow in the right direction. Stale companies create products that consumers no longer want, and no entrepreneur wants to see their brainchild shut down or have to sell for a bargain. So this is one important reason they should want to invest in the creative process: to future-proof their company.
Ideas should never go into a black hole, never to be seen again. This means that employees should understand the status of their ideas and get feedback. If an idea is rejected, they should know how they might improve next time and why exactly it wasn’t a fit. The opposite is also true: any selected ideas should receive an explanation as to why they were a fit. This transparency layer validates the creative process, further expands upon the criteria for selection, and encourages employees to continue generating new ideas.
Light of Day
New ideas have to elevate beyond ideation and experimentation. They need to be tested and implemented in a reasonable amount of time. Great ideas should never be left to die on the vine but instead explored while still fresh. Concepts that are adored after comprehensive user testing (which should be ongoing, of course) should go live quickly and be monitored over time. This had a two-fold benefit. First, employees will feel validated that the creative idea generation is worth their time. And second, ideas will have the chance to get into the market when they are still fresh and relevant.
Going through the creative process shouldn’t just be a one-time thing. Once an idea becomes a product that goes live in the market, there is so much data to collect. This is likely to lead to ideas for improvement. The best business ideas are perfected over time as more data becomes available. Giving employees the ability to hone their original ideas and grow them provides an invaluable personal growth opportunity that can be transferred to additional product development frameworks in the future.
If Apple had stuck with only computers and never launched services or smartphones, they would have only ever achieved a small sliver of the successes they’ve enjoyed. Imagine if Amazon had chosen to sell books forever and never ventured into cloud storage. While these are examples from two of the world’s largest companies, the lessons extend out to businesses of all sizes: the business line that will cement your success might not be one that you’re working on today. The idea might come up from an employee in a far-flung department. Having systems in place to make ideation a part of each workday will make it possible to run with the idea and prove that it is worth trying out when it is right.
Why is the creative process valuable in your business? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio.
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