Jeff DeGraff is both an advisor to Fortune 500 companies and a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. His simultaneously creative and pragmatic approach to making innovation happen has led clients and colleagues to dub him the “Dean of Innovation.” Jeff’s thoughts on innovation are covered by Inc., Fortune, and Psychology Today to name a few. Jeff is the Co-Creator of the Competing Values methodology that integrates finance, strategy, management, innovation, and leadership into a system that boosts the business bottom line, and he collaborates with Haworth through the consultancy, Innovatrium.
Every organization has a need to innovate in some way to stay relevant. But it can be hard to figure out just how to begin. It all starts with building a culture that supports creativity and collaboration at work.
Here are some ways to promote a creative culture of innovation within your organization:
1. Create a safe collaborative space.
Collaborative innovation comes in many forms and kinds. From brainstorming sessions and innovation jams to crowd funding, these forms of growth all mobilize a diverse group of people with a variety of skills. The benefits to joint innovation efforts are plenty: the global scale of the initiative, the rapidity of experimentation, the reservoirs of outside talent, and the guaranteed wider array of solutions.
2. Avoid getting stuck in the center.
When a large team of people has ideas, and they all share them, there's the danger that everyone will get pulled to the center and ideas will be reduced to something unexceptional. Don't let the multiplicity of ideas at a brainstorming session get flattened out into a mass of mediocrity. Keep challenging yourself and those around you to go outside of the expected limits and boundaries of your project.
3. Surround yourself with people unlike you.
Find the people who can fill in your blind spots and help you with things you don't know. This means embracing individuals you may have nothing in common with: thinkers who see the world differently than you do. Gather the talents of those who can teach you and give you things that you cannot give yourself.
4. Remember the importance of expertise.
Collaboration assumes a horizontal structure of activity. That is, everyone involved is suddenly on the same level. This democratic attitude can be a great thing, yet people sometimes forget the centrality of expertise. Don't just solicit the opinion of the masses when you're building your innovation team—find experts in the fields relevant to your initiative.
5. Stop starting and start stopping.
What if the key to innovation isn’t starting something new? What if the real secret is stopping something old? You don’t have the capacity—the time, resources, or energy—to do new things because you are busy maintaining the old ones. Starting new things is easy. You just add an app or expand your workday a couple of hours. Stopping things is hard. It’s full of feelings of loss, disappointment, and failure. It takes more than creativity. It takes courage to stop what you’ve been doing to make room for the things your organization wants to start doing now.
6. Assemble your innovation advisory board
Assemble a group of bright, energetic thinkers your organization can trust. Use them to brainstorm and bounce ideas off them. Unlike a board of directors, which is subject to influence by outside financial interests like investors, a board of advisers has no vested interest in your company. Rather, they are committed solely to developing ideas and sharing and exchanging knowledge. The advisory board does the work that the organization can’t. Seek out people with extensive experience in their fields or those who can partner with you, such as customers, the community, investors, regulators, trendsetters, and visionary revolutionaries.
Creative collaboration is a must for companies that want to innovate, as are organizational culture and leadership that support these efforts. Starting with these tips can help you begin to cultivate a mindset that will help your organization embrace new ideas and support people with what they need to develop them. Learn more from SPARK about fostering creativity and innovation at work.