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Can I Learn to be more Creative?

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Jonah Lehrer, author of “Imagine:  How Creativity Works“  says we all have the potential.

That’s encouraging given how much has been written recently about Canadian innovation lagging and why that might be.

Is it the fault of universities and colleges not graduating people who can build a better mouse-trap?  Dr. David Naylor, President of the University of Toronto, said in an April 21012 interview with the Globe and Mail:  “I think the job of universities is to build what some call T-shaped individuals—a deep column of narrow expertise, capped by substantial breadth.  That means more multidisciplinary and experiential learning, and lots of opportunities for interactive problem-solving inside and outside the classroom.  It also means acknowledging a digital reality:  facts are cheap and accessible, but people who can generate ideas and think creatively are priceless”.

Google’s philosophy of innovation is to “constantly question everything”.  Marissa Mayer,  a Google VP, told Newsweek:  “You can’t understand Google unless you know that Larry and Sergey (the co-founders) were Montessori kids”.  The key to the Montessori method is freedom  to explore and ask “why”.

So how can employers ensure that there is freedom to explore and ask why in the workplace?

  1. Rethink traditional offices:  What space and furniture support collaboration and innovation?  Traditional offices may not cut it any longer if you want to foster diversity of thought.  
  2. Offer appropriate technology:  What technology frees up time to daydream and doodle?  It’s hard to be creative when you’re bogged down in the weeds.
  3. Create breaks from technology:  Are employees allowed not to answer their iPhones/Blackberries 24/7?  Encourage real work-life balance by providing green spots, walking paths, etc.         
  4. Support wellness:  Do you offer employees programs beyond typical health benefits?  Offer nutrition, smoking cessation, etc. programs.  Build a gym, offer yoga, pilates, walking, in-chair massages…   
  5. Encourage employees to work a reasonable work day and take regular vacations:  Are employees expected to put in 12+ hours of face time and forfeit R&R?  Our brains work through problems best during solid REM sleep.
  6. Brainstorm:  Is there such a thing as a bad idea?  There shouldn’t be!  Get all the ideas on the table before starting to filter them.  Watch ideas spark as people debate and disagree. 
  7. Give credit where credit is due:  Is it fair game for a manager to claim credit for a direct report’s idea?  Absolutely not.  Recognize and reward those people willing to take calculated risks.   
  8. Allow failure:  Is lack of success unacceptable?  Not in a true learning organization.  Many highly successful people failed…and learned from their experiences…many times before their big breakthrough.

Be inspired by the following companies showcased in a November 2011 article, “Six Ways to Win”, in the Globe and Mail:

  1. Intellectual Property:  Xerox Canada (it generates 160 patentable ideas every year).
  2. Trade Diversification:  Clearford Industries (this small town wastewater-treatment business strategically chose to go global).
  3. Culture of Innovation:  Capital One Canada (it has a “big idea” fund to help finance employees’ ideas).
  4. Niche Products:  Vive Nano (it develops formulations used in crop protection that boost yields while eliminating the need for harmful chemicals common in pesticides).
  5. Multilingual, multicultural workforce:  Biztree (it sees the world as its market;  it’s not just about languages but culture as well).
  6. Collaboration:  Medtronic (its website is also an info. exchange where scientists and engineers from around the world can submit questions or ideas for discussion).

One of the best Professional Development workshops I participated in during my corporate career was Creativity Day Camp.  An equal mix of artists and business people spent a day at the hip Drake Hotel immersed in music (try to sit still while listening to Stomp!), art (make an outfit of 6′ of butcher paper and some masking tape;  no scissors allowed),  drama (tell your story), circus tricks (take a calculated risk on a unicycle or trapeze)…It was nothing short of amazing!

Create time to have fun and trust your gut!  That’s when creativity bubbles up…