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Creating a culture of innovation

“How do you motivate your team to be more creative/innovative?”

I came across this question on my Twitter feed which stopped me in my tracks. It is usually hard to answer questions like these with character limitations and attention-span deficit because of these social media platforms. It is even more complex to be contextual to the person’s situation and answer it in a way that helps them achieve their goals. That said, please find my answer to this here 

Thinking innovation

An off the cuff answer, I have since thought about this question slightly differently. A remedy, a one-off event, a hack and so on will not work.

Simply, creating a culture is more important than some one-off event. 

I will try to articulate what I mean with context to the answers highlighted. These topics all deserve their separate articles but for brevity, I put down some quick thoughts. 

Show and prove

It is about hitting your targets and performing well under the same conditions as the rest of your team. It is my experience that if you can show your work, not make excuses and continue to prove competency, your team will follow. They have no other choice but to show up themselves or bail. 

This is more leadership than creative advice — however, putting in the work is required for innovation. An attempt must exist for it to be creative. Motivation is overrated, putting in the work is unavoidable. 

→ In practice: Action breeds motivation - Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck  

Avoiding the quick win

When coming up with a solution, don’t settle for the first answer that comes your way. In teams, the allure of a quick win is very tempting as you are rushing to go to the next thing, win the next client and so on. 

Although valid, this strategy doesn’t hit the mark in regards to the long term. Avoiding the quick win is about fostering a culture of long-term thinking. By doing this, you become a person or company that builds quality work, and to keep up with this reputation, you have to think creatively and innovate consistently. That is how you create a culture — making it a way of life is more important than a once-off activity.

Better explanations elsewhere;

Applying constraints

Constraints are the edges and boundaries/confines that you or your team have to work within. For example, my startup, PiCortex, has five full-time employees, which means we are responsible for working with customers, supporting them, documentation, marketing, etc. The limited capital (financial & human) is a constraint that we have to work with and because of this, we have to do all our functions and more within these boundaries. It forces us to think creatively by using systems, relies on tools and fosters innovation.

→ Constraints in the wild;  Jack Butcher builds his illustrations in black and white which makes his work very recognizable and commercially lucrative. 

Asking the same questions repeatedly

I would change this to asking more questions

Asking questions is a powerful tool that many of us are not tapping into. Asking questions is the cornerstone to unlocking clarity and the intent. Without clarity, creative work is less intentional and doesn’t serve the intended much. It takes nothing to ask questions and can take you a lot further than when you started.

→ In systems thinking and design thinking, there is a concept of the 5 Whys illustrated in this image. You can start asking more questions today.

Always stating the obvious

What is obvious to you, is not obvious to others! The vice versa is true.
Therefore, stating all the facts & gathering all the assumptions no matter how elementary they are (read that as no matter how stupid you will sound/look) is a huge time saver. When working in a team this can set a good anchor for your creative pursuits. Furthermore, your findings can compound into a living artefact like a way of doing work or guidelines/best practices that can continue to be built upon for the long term. 

→ I have mentioned a lot of obvious things in this article (I am aware). 

Albeit a brief write-up with my thoughts and personal experiences, I would like to stress that these alone are not enough. Even with this knowledge, I continue to trip up. I believe, that the most important thing is embedding creative thinking/innovation into your lifestyle or work culture to making it a way of life or culture. 

I have done this through creating habitscreating systems and having a bias towards small wins (kaizen methodology). Make these so simple and easy to reproduce that you will continue to work on them daily.

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© 2022 — Steven Sajja. All rights reserved.