What Tim Brown of IDEO Taught us about Creativity in Corporate Innovation

Carie Davis
Oct 24, 2016 · 4 min read
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The Creativity Myth

Creative leadership isn’t about leaders simply becoming more creative. It’s about individuals leading for creativity. That means you, as a leader, must unlock the creative potential of your organization, no matter the industry. It’s your job to set the conditions for your organization to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. It’s a competitive imperative that will keep you ahead in the marketplace.
-Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO and author of Change By Design

We see a lot of myths about creativity’s role in innovation. Common ones are:

  • Business leaders need to be “more creative” as Tim Brown suggests.

Everyone is capable of being creative. Companies like Google, Apple, and Disney innovate because their environment fosters creativity.

You can do the same in your organization. Here are best practices of our innovative customers and a few hacks to kickstart your creativity.

Building blocks for unlocking creative potential

Rule #1 in fostering creativity is “don’t destroy it.” If your team is bogged down with meetings, long emails, and reports, you’re doomed. If management controls all information, your employees won’t even try. If key employees turnover every 6 months …

… you get the idea.

Most of these problems are pretty obvious if you use a 360-degree feedback system with your team. If you don’t have any major obstacles, you can start implementing the long-term building blocks for creativity.

Articulate a innovation vision

Unfocused creativity has another name: chaos. Leaders have to articulate a long-term vision just like great startup founders. Teams don’t need generic, in-actionable “vision statements”. They need a business goal to generate ideas and testable hypotheses.

“We’re going to launch a new product in the enterprise cyber-security market with $100M potential by 2020” is a vision.

Build a creative environment

The business media generates entertaining stories of “creative” startup environments with foosball tables, nap rooms and nerf guns. Many startups do have these perks — mostly for recruiting and PR — but toys don’t lead to creativity.

Innovative teams get together to solve problems. They make decisions based on data and take smart risk. They solicit ideas. A good starting point for building a creative environment is Collective Genius (limited free views) published in HBR.

Ask questions

One of the best ways to encourage innovation is to keep asking questions.

For example, the “5-Whys” technique has been used in manufacturing for decades to determine root cause and generate continuous improvement. Eric Ries popularized it for startups because it is simple, actionable and gets a team focused on a creative way to solve problems.

When you’re stuck in a creative rut, just keep asking questions.

Set realistic expectations

Creativity can be messy. For results-oriented employees, it can look like “too many cooks” in the kitchen. When everyone gets impatient, it is worth reminding them how innovation actually works.

Creativity hacks — how to accelerate innovation today

Our customers want us to demonstrate results quickly. Here are some techniques we use to accelerate corporate innovation.

Use a Business Model Canvas

One page business plans like Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas can spark creativity. Most employees look for breakthroughs in what they see: product, price, and solution.

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Real breakthroughs often come from thinking about distribution or resources differently. Canvases get everyone thinking about the entire business.

Do the opposite

This is a fun exercise for teams who are stuck: ask “what if we did the opposite?”

What does business look like if we give away the product?
What happens if we make our customers’ problem worse?
What does our business look like if we charge less as customers give us more data?

It worked for George Costanza

Coming up with scenarios is an exercise in creativity.

Partner with startups

Let’s face it — a lot of our day-to-day work is tedious and overwhelming. Meetings. Emails. Conference calls. Employee reviews. Managers simply don’t have the time to keep up with customer trends.

One benefit of working with startups is the influx of fresh ideas and perspectives. Leaders and teams can see what is possible by talking to those who are pushing the envelope.

This is a model we’ve been working on.

Run 3-day Innovation Sprints

Sometimes your best ideas can come from getting everyone focused on a specific idea for a structured time. Innovation sprints are a great technique for rapidly generating creativity without pulling key resources from their existing jobs.

If you need help running an innovation sprint just email us at letstalk@yourideasareterrible.com.

Photo credit: Atmosphere 2015

Originally published at Your Ideas Are Terrible.

Your Ideas Are Terrible

A plain-English look at corporate innovation

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