Creativity First, Innovation Will Follow

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Alright, I am officially obsessing about creativity.

This has everything to do with the intense interest in innovation.

Discussions about innovation seem to be everywhere — yet, we don’t to fully understand how to cultivate it. Yes, innovation is a critical concept in today’s workplaces. Yes, it is necessary for us to move forward. However, I can’t help but think that we might be putting the cart before the horse.

Which leads me to one crux of the innovation dilemma.

When it comes to innovation — don’t we need creativity to be there to pave the road?

In this regard, it is wise to learn from the masters. I’ve just listened to HBR’s interview with Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios. Undeniably, the folks at Pixar seem to have a handle on the creativity realm and the innovative results which follow. Catmull explains that the dynamic they have built to foster innovation at his studio isn’t perfect. However, the employed creative process has successfully contributed to quite a few incredible game-changing outcomes. (Consider Toy Story for a moment).

The ideas Catmull proposes to encourage creativity may initially make us uncomfortable and against the grain of how we might usually work. But, the dynamic has undeniably been proven to be a winner.

Here are a few of Pixar’s strategies to consider:

  • Banish perfectionism. There is a misconception that an idea has to be perfected to share it. Throw that rule out the window — and take a leap of faith to trust your team. Share your ideas earlier and gain useful input to build on its strengths.
  • Don’t let risk dictate. Give ideas enough time to “flesh out” before the looming possibility of risk snuffs out the possibilities. Evaluate risk as time goes on, and address those risks one step at a time — after the true potential of the idea is presented.
  • Don’t focus on just one idea. Becoming creative isn’t about locking in on one idea and never letting in another creative thought. Look to accumulate a number of ideas, and group them to help catapult a project forward. If you work in a group (as they do at Pixar), let a number of ideas from different contributors co-exist for a time. See what develops.
  • Not all ideas are instant money makers. Sometimes the process of following a creative path is simply good for the soul. Even if the idea doesn’t prove lucrative, it might pave the way for other ideas which have a much greater payoff.
  • You can give up. Not every creative endeavor deserves long-term attention or resources. If you have the feeling that you’ve entered a dead-end, offer yourself permission to move on. File the work for a later date —  it may become more relevant down the line.

How do you stoke innovation in your team? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a worklife strategist, consultant and speaker. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Power of an Idea: Developing Your Own Idea Management System

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I adore the movies — particularly films set in the workplace. I suppose this is an occupational hazard. (See a running list of the best of them here.) There is often a lesson to be learned from a great workplace inspired movie. But, there are a few which include classic themes about life and work. These are without a doubt, the movies we watch time and time again.

“Working Girl” is one of those movies. (See Siskel & Ebert’s 1988 original review here.) It has it all. Big business, big opportunities, romance — and the added interest of a really, really despicable boss. In this “David and Goliath” themed script, a secretary from Stanton Island (Tess, played by Melanie Griffeth), takes on the her silver-spooned, self-entitled boss (played flawlessly by Sigourney Weaver).

The plot centers on the ownership of a creative business proposal drafted by Tess, but peddled by Katherine as her own. There is an iconic elevator scene, where Katherine is finally put in her proverbial place after dishing out a hefty dose of lies and deceit. She is shut down so succinctly and so completely that you find yourself muttering, “Yes!”.

How the less powerful protagonist , shuts down her boss is worthy to note.

She did so with the power of inspiration.

It is the crucial moment where Tess explains how she happened upon her idea. The “Aha Moment” that ignited the notion that “Trask”  should move in an entirely different direction, toward radio instead of television — was the key to turning the tables on her boss.

“See”, Tess explains as she shows the clippings from the newspaper. “Trask…radio…Trask…radio.”

It’s one of the most satisfying moments for me in movie history — and it’s all about the power of a single remarkable idea.

Never underestimate the value of an idea
Some of the greatest moments in science and the arts come from a quick flash of thought. We’ll never be able to predict when those moments will occur. However being prepared to note them is critical. Few of us take the time to records and cultivate these moments.

Ultimately, it is up to you to effectively capture and nurture these moments.

What to do:

  • Respect your ideas. When you have an inspired idea don’t ignore it — listen and record it. Type a message into your phone or keep a notebook. Don’t let it slip away. Even DaVinci kept notebooks to keep his thoughts close to him.
  • Identify supporting materials. If you are reading a newspaper and find something useful or interesting, clip it. If you are on-line, bookmark the page.
  • Connect the dots. Once a week, review what you have collected and organize your thoughts into a concrete idea. Try writing each thought on a post-it note and sort them accordingly. Is there a pattern or common thread? Do they fit together somehow?
  • Evaluate. Review the idea the next day. If you feel the idea still has merit, do research and see what you come up with. “Deep Google” the topic to reveal nuances and applicability to your business. If you like what has developed, run the idea by a friend or colleague.
  • Develop the idea. Write a one-pager with details. Include your supporting sources and how the idea would be applied to your work.
  • Communicate. If the idea is still solid, map out a business plan or mini-proposal. Write a blog post. Draft a story. Develop a Slide Share deck to present it to others. Move forward somehow.

Vow to never waste another moment of inspiration. Value your ideas and give them the respect they deserve.

But keep the clippings — just in case.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin.