07/09/2011 - 10:15

Is your workplace open to innovative thinking?

07/09/2011 - 10:15


Save articles for future reference.

EVERY organisation faces two major challenges – to deliver products and services to current customers quickly at a minimum of costs, and to invent new products and services before their competitors do.   

Many managers treat innovation and creativity as the holy grail of the workplace – everybody wants it but no-one is sure it exists or how to find it. For many organisations it is just wishful thinking. Though both innovation and creativity are touted as valuable, staff joke that they are nothing more than buzzwords, since few managers make the changes needed to nurture them. 

In some cases, like with William L Gore’s invention of Gore-Tex while working at DuPont, an employee tries to convince their company to market their invention and when the company refuses the employee starts his own company. Gore-Tex is now a billion dollar company.

Mark Earls, author of Herd and ex-director of one of the UK’s largest communications group, points out that it is the hierarchical way companies are traditionally structured to ensure control and conformity that stifles and alienates creativity. Successful creative people avoid working in companies with these cultures because they know that, together with the creative ideas they love, they will also have to compromise their very way of being.

So how can creativity and innovation be nurtured? Research on creativity has shown that factors such as trust and time to be creative are vital. 3M gives good performers 10 per cent ‘skunkworks’ time – time to pursue creative ideas that will be of value to the company. 

Willingness to take risks, seeing the ‘big picture’, and openness are other characteristics that leaders can foster in the workplace.  St Lukes, a creative advertising company in the UK, holds a raffle every year and the winning employee gets to choose the colour of the building.  When we visited St Lukes the building was a bright purple and there were splashes of yellow throughout the offices. 

Creative companies also learn from failure rather than blaming their people for mistakes. Before Apple succeeded with the Mac computer, iPods, iPhones, and now iPads, it introduced an innovative computer called the Liza that was a major commercial failure, however it provided technical and project innovation that was the very groundwork for their future successes. 

Valuing and generating creative ideas is the first step; beyond this organisations such as Landgate have introduced systems to capture innovative ideas, like an innovation committee that provides seed funding for the best ideas. 

Working holistically, Google and other highly innovative companies are teaching their employees meditation and mindfulness techniques, not just to help them reduce stress but to help them be creative; NASA encourages employees to use nature as a stimulus for creative ideas.

Our company holds its planning meetings in creative places such as His Majesty’s Theatre, the Perth Zoo, the Art Gallery and Rottnest so that people can relax, unwind and unleash their real thoughts on making the business better.

There are tricky questions regarding creativity that involve ownership of intellectual property.  Why should an employee give a great idea to a company and see it make millions of dollars on something he/she created? If a person invents something during company time, the intellectual property usually belongs to the company. The invention of the multiple speed windshield wiper was one such example. 

But supposing the employee said that he/she developed it on their own time, like the weekend or after hours? Appropriately rewarding employees so that there is value in their sharing of their creativity with the company is important. Creative ideas spark off each other, so collaboration in the workplace brings with it a possibility for innovation that is exponential.

In today’s challenging environment of constant change, opening your organisation up to creativity and innovation is necessary to transform creative fancy into a valuable reality.


Ron Cacioppe is managing director of Integral Development, one of Perth’s most unique and experienced leadership and management consultancies. He is also adjunct professor at Curtin’s Australian Sustainable Development Institute. Helen Ferrara recently completed a PhD on creativity and is starting CreativeNurture to drive innovation through the use of creative techniques and practices

Contact Ron on 9242 8122 | admin@integral.org.au


Subscription Options