I make a habit every holiday to learn something new. This often involves two steps: a) reflecting on a key theme that I feel will have the biggest impact for organizations and b) finding sources to learn more about that theme, usually in the form of books, blogs, Ted Talks, articles, etc.
This Christmas break I asked myself, “What is a critical need that companies require in order to find success?” Although there are many, it’s my personal belief that every successful product, process, promotion, or acquisition started with an idea. This lead to my next question: “How do we – as leaders – foster creativity in our organizations in order to consistently generate great ideas?”
For answers, I turned to a great source, a book called Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. Ed is the president and one of the founders of Pixar, the animation studios behind such blockbusters as “Toy Story”, “Finding Nemo”, “Cars” and “Inside Out”. In his book, Ed outlines several solid principals for protecting and fostering creative environments – principles that I believe can be applied to any organization.
There were three key points from Ed’s book that I want to highlight, along with some personal insight that I’ve learned through our agency work as well as working with other organizations.
1. Safe People Build Bold Ideas.
Ideas are fragile thoughts in their early stages and they need time, feedback and input to grow into something meaningful. As a leader, we need to ensure that we create a safe place for our employees to share new thoughts and ideas that may even seem risky at first. This means not jumping into details too early or pointing out reasons for why that may not work too soon. Rather, praise the effort for bringing forth new ideas but ask good questions to see the strategic depth of them. Never shoot down fragile ideas in front of others or it will be the last time someone speaks up.
2. Beware of Success – It Creates Resistance to Risk and New Ideas.
Ed Catmull states that “People hold on to things that work – stories that work, methods that work, strategies that work. You figure something out, it works, so you keep doing it – this is what an organization that is committed to learning does. And as we become successful, our approaches are reinforced, and we become even more resistant to change.” Leaders need to be aware of when innovation and change is needed within their organizations to ensure they don’t become complacent or stale. However, be warned, you will receive push-back as success doesn’t scream the need for change but this when a leader needs to take initiative and push forward.
3. Create a “Sand Box” to Reduce Risk.
Catmull says that “…to be a truly creative company you must start things that might fail”. New ideas and innovation involve risk which runs against growth goals for smaller organizations. For example, would you rather have 15% growth at 80% chance of success or 75% growth with a 50% chance of success? In my experience, smaller organizations take the lower risk option as they’re content with 15% growth and it typically requires less cash and is easier to manage. But I’ve often found that kind of thinking doesn’t lead to long-term success and can lead to a stagnant culture. I recommend that organizations develop a “sandbox” to play with ideas in a relatively low-risk manner such as a small product line, channel or division. One of our clients, Silver Hills Bakery, created an outlet retail store in their bakery to test new product ideas and to keep a pulse on consumer trends and activities. I use my personal brand and our own agency marketing for CREW to test out new marketing methods and content.
Have you been holding back on bringing an idea for a product, promotion or process to life? Now is the perfect time to look at its potential with a new perspective. While we may never produce box office hits like Pixar, we can still be leaders in creativity in our own industries by fostering safe places for new ideas to be born through the cultures we put in place and the people we employ.
Have a great day,