Driving Creativity and Innovation

Whether your gear business produces a product or delivers a service, creativity and innovation should be part of your culture and daily practice.

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Even in the best design teams, day-to-day repetitive tasks can foster stagnation and diminish creativity and efficiencies. Without creativity and new approaches, your team will become complacent and your business less competitive and relevant.

New ideas, breakthrough products, and more efficient processes can help you grow your brand, add value, launch new products, sell new services, and so much more. Creativity is defined as the ability to make new things or think of new ideas. To innovate is to do something in a new way or have new ideas about how something can be done. Often associated with a breakthrough idea or as the brainchild of an individual, creative or innovative qualities can be encouraged and facilitated within a team environment. Each can be positively influenced by being attentive to three elements: culture, work practices, and effective techniques.

Culture

Every company’s culture is characteristically different and typically reflective of its leadership and history. If your culture does not support creativity and innovation, consider how to make the transformation. Whatever you do, change should align with your company’s values and strategic objectives. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Be open to new ideas and reward participation.
  • Demonstrate that you value new ideas by acting on proposals.
  • Encourage risk-taking and accept that there will be failures.
  • Set a clear vision on the team’s objective and illustrate how it aligns with corporate values.
  • Allow for autonomy to encourage those that are less comfortable expressing their ideas openly.
  • Inspire your team to challenge core beliefs, sacred cows, or complacency.

Work Practices

Implement work practices that allow for design team brainstorming and work-hour flexibility. Be sure the team includes members from diverse backgrounds with the necessary technical skills and personalities and provide an environment that will encourage imaginative thought.

Other considerations are:

  • Set aside a dedicated work/think space for impromptu team collaboration. This space should have an informal and comfortable atmosphere equipped with idea-capturing tools like dry-erase boards, sketch pads, or tablets.
  • Provide both related and unrelated idea-generating materials such as industry magazines, competitor literature, related product marketing materials, puzzles, and business-related best sellers.
  • Set aside a time each week for the team to exchange ideas.
  • Take the team offsite to experience other complementary or competitive businesses, services, products, and customer experiences.
  • Consider flexibility in work hours and location — as creative ideas can come at any time or place.

Techniques

In order to drive creativity and innovation, we must challenge the way we have always done it. In stimulating new ideas, processes, and products, we need to think outside of our individual filters developed over time. For example, consider a magic trick. The art of illusion is partly successful because our brains fill in what we expect to see, or we are distracted to focus elsewhere. In a similar fashion, unless we are challenged to think or filter differently, we may be destined to repeat what we have always done. As noted by Gregory Berns of Emory University: “To perceive things differently we must expose our brains to things never encountered. This kind of novelty is vital because the brain has evolved for efficiency and routinely takes perceptual shortcuts to save energy; perceiving information in the usual way requires little of it. Only by forcing our brains to recategorize information and move beyond our habitual thinking patterns can we begin to imagine truly novel alternatives.”

By challenging the norm, companies can improve their ability to create breakthroughs. Here are some suggested techniques:

  • When faced with developing new products, processes, or services, look for other companies and experts outside your industry who already excel at it. Here are a few examples:
    • To improve your design team’s output, look to companies that sell contracted design services. How do they do it? What software do they use? How do they schedule the workload?
    • To reduce lead time in the supply chain, look to pharmacies that can deliver prescriptions to your door in one day.
    • To reduce prototype cycle times, look to 3D printing services and companies with a high rate of new product launches.
    • To reduce your design lead time, consider a company that has already excelled in cycle reduction such as FedEx or Amazon.
  • Invite experts from outside your company to participate in brainstorming events.
  • Use anecdotal storytelling to stimulate thought.
  • Use lateral thinking to assimilate your particular challenge. Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach using reasoning that is not immediately obvious.

Conclusion

By recognizing the importance of creativity and innovative ideas, breakthrough opportunities will certainly benefit.

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Matt Mondek
is the president of Mondek Solutions, a consulting business committed to driving the success of manufacturers through common-sense implementation of multi-disciplined best practices and problem resolution. He has over 38 years of experience in P&L, executive level leadership, operational effectiveness, quality, and product design. For more information, contact Mondek at mmondek@mondeksolutions.com or 815-382-1987, and visit www.mondeksolutions.com.