How do you make your competition irrelevant? There are only two things you have that others don’t:
1. your people
2. innovation—coming up with new ways of doing things
So, how do you cultivate creativity in yourself and your people and innovation in your company? Here are some simple things you can do.
Cultivate Personal Creativity
1. Get rid of your limitations. When you find yourself in doubt or saying something can’t be done, reframe the situation and don’t limit yourself. We are always our own biggest limitation. My wife often tells the story of when I lost my glasses in the Baltic Sea. I was conducting a week-long seminar in a remote village in northern Sweden. On Monday, I jumped into the 42-degree water after a sauna and lost my glasses. I called my wife, who contacted my optometrist, who faxed my prescription to the conference center the next day.
On Tuesday, I thought, if I could find someone with a diving mask, I might be able to find my glasses. My wife thought that was impossible: Who would have a diving mask in northern Sweden? I asked the woman at the bar at the conference center if she knew where I could buy some contact lenses to get me through the week and perhaps a diving mask. As it turns out, she was a diver and offered to bring me a mask the next day. She also told me there was a shop in the village that sold glasses and contacts. I raced there that afternoon and bought a pair of contacts.
On Wednesday, we went on an all-day outing, so I didn’t try to retrieve my glasses. On Thursday, we were so busy, by the time we finished for the day, it was too dark to look for my glasses. Friday morning: Everyone said I was insane. My wife told me to not even try. The class participants were sitting around in deck chairs watching me. They told me there was no way I was going to find my glasses after four days. I put on my bathing suit, my contacts, and the diving goggles and dove into the frigid water. And there, on the sandy bottom, were my glasses. I came up triumphantly with my glasses in hand. The class participants thought I staged the whole thing to teach them about their attitudes. What limitations are you putting on yourself? Now my wife and I always say, “What if?”
2. Open yourself up to possibilities. Any situation has infinite possibilities. Why not believe that it is possible to find an answer or approach things in a different way? Many times, we try to manipulate outcomes because of the lenses we wear. These lenses color our sense of what is possible and what is not. Stripping away the limitations opens us up to the possibilities, which is key for innovation.
3. Develop a “yes, and” attitude. Do you find yourself saying, “Yes, but…” a lot? When people throw ideas at you, are you quick to defeat them? Look at it this way: If a loved one came to you and asked if you loved them, would you respond with, “Yes, but…”? “Yes, and” does NOT mean agreement. It just means that you are open to the possibilities.
Here are additional ways to get those creative juices flowing:
Expand your knowledge. Read a book a week. Be a thirsty learner. Learn about EVERYTHING! Get out in nature and ground yourself. Make time for daily reflection where all of these thoughts can coalesce. Get out of your routines. Use your opposite hand to shave, to bathe, to eat. Put your watch on the opposite wrist. Dry off differently. Get dressed differently. Put your belt on counterclockwise instead of clockwise. Be an ardent observer! Observe everything: how people interact, colors, textures, sounds, sights, tastes, and smells.
Cultivate Innovation in Your Company
1. Set aside the time for innovation and creative endeavors. Have roundtable discussions with colleagues of many different personalities, ages, and experience levels. Make it a company rule that, for at least 30 minutes a day, everyone MUST play, have fun, and innovate. I know this is a hard one for most design and construction companies. But it is vital for cultivating innovation in the workplace. You will get a big return on this investment of time if you take the risk and let your people play.
2. Meet regularly to discuss new ideas. At every meeting, ask: “What can we do differently?” It is vital for the success of your company. Throw out the status quo.
3. Develop a “yes, and” culture. Take the personal “yes, and” attitude and infuse it into your workplace. Ban the phrase, “Yes, but….” Allow people to think way outside the box and offer new ways of doing things. As an industry, we are taught to be risk averse. This is a death knell for innovation. You must reward innovation instead of risk aversion. Let your people know that the leadership is open to new ideas.
I understand that the technical folks in the industry aren’t the best at innovation and creativity. Now is the time to challenge them to think differently. Now is the time to find those new ways of working. The industry is changing and changing fast. We can either embrace the change and drive innovation or react to the change and be one step behind. Now, go out there and innovate!