Creating an organizational culture that encourages creativity

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Encouragement from top managers for new ideas

Part of an approach that encourages organizational creativity should involve encouragement from top management. Creativity inherently involves some degree of risk – if only putting ideas that may be infeasible out there. Having encouragement from management that this is desirable and expected can help create a culture where individuals are willing to share suggestions – including those that are quite different from what the firm currently does. 

Bringing together different backgrounds to explore ideas

Another component of encouraging creativity is bringing together people with different backgrounds – potentially in brainstorming sessions. Having a diversity of opinions is important for creativity to occur – often some of the best ideas involve combining experiences from different areas. Regular interactions between manufacturing, development, and sales may for example help identify a new way of meeting a customer need. Without the interaction between individuals with different experiences, the possibility of identifying this new opportunity may be greatly reduced. 

Taking new ideas seriously

Another component of creating a culture that encourages creativity is actually taking ideas seriously. If the standard response to a new idea is “that is not how we do things here”, or “that wouldn’t work for us”, then quite quickly creative suggestions will stop. There is some degree of risk involved in putting your neck on the line with a creative suggestion, and if the immediate response is always to shoot down the ideas, then it is likely that the ideas will stop flowing quickly. 

Not penalizing 'bad ideas', and tolerating failures

A final component of encouraging a culture of creativity within an organization is not to penalize bad ideas and to tolerate failures. Many creative suggestions will not ultimately generate results – this is an inevitable component of creativity. Some will seem good on the surface, but not make it past prototyping. 

The danger of penalizing failures is that you quickly make employees particularly risk-averse. They may become unwilling to share suggestions unless they are quite clearly improvements. Creative ideas are rarely no-risk options – there will likely be some initial uncertainty associated with doing something radically different than before. Making people feel bad for suggesting something that did not work out (or was not adopted), will very quickly turn a culture of creativity to a culture where employees are reluctant to share their ideas.