- Everyone is capable of being creative, they’re just reluctant.
- Even if your team wants to be innovative, they’re likely concerned about something else. They need to persuaded the goal is more important than their concerns.
- Creativity and curiosity are intrinsic.
Why is innovation important for your organization? Maybe you feel stuck. Maybe you feel overwhelmed. Or maybe, it feels like you’re doing everyone else’s job for them. Whatever the case, you probably have concerns about your organization’s culture, and it’s ability to grow. There’s a reasonable explanation for all this. People are reluctant to be creative and curious. The challenge is figuring out why and what to do about it.
Before you try to solve this problem with another brainstorm, reframe it. Because how you define the problem, is going to impact how, and whether you’ll solve it.
I have worked with a lot of managers and teams over the past 30 years, and when people are reluctant to be more innovative, it’s usually one of these three reasons:
- Unwilling They’re worried about changing the status quo.
- Aversion The start/stop efforts of the past have left them cynical.
- Hesitation They’ll do it, but there’s no urgency.
What are some of the symptoms to look for before jumping into a diagnosis? For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re starting a new project and want to develop a vision for the future (~6 months to 2 years from now). You set aside a whole day for an unstructured brainstorm session to kick things off. Generally one of the following scenarios play out depending on your team’s perspective:
- The unwilling will be stingy or shy with sharing ideas. When it comes to your ideas and others they’re agreeable to a fault. For the few suggestions they do make, they’re quick to seek validation instead of feedback by asking questions like, “is that what you mean?” Their focus on whether something is “right” or “wrong” may indicate they’re concerned about change.
- The averse will be skeptical, possibly even difficult. They may see the point of your meeting, but not the purpose. They’re full of ideas, but mostly about why or how things can go wrong. Any suggestions are often couched in defensive language and risk avoidance. Their focus on the past and previous experience means they’re concerned about blame and covering their butts.
- The hesitant will go along with you, but at their own pace. At the meeting, they’ll be forthcoming with ideas, but mostly on what’s on their plate now and how it’ll fit it into the schedule. Their idea of the future is measured in days and weeks, not months and years. Their ambivalence about what tomorrow looks like is because they assume it’s going to look a lot like today. They’re lack of concern is the reason you’re concerned.
Notice how these examples have nothing to do with people’s ability to be creative or curious? That’s because it’s never the case. We’re all born with those natural abilities. People’s aptitude for innovation is intrinsic. It just needs to be activated.
Think about caffeine
Most people think there’s something in caffeine that gives us energy and makes us jittery. After all, it’s a stimulant. The way the caffeine works is by blocking certain receptors so the flow of dopamine – the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure – increases. The energy was already in us. That double espresso or Diet Coke just turned it on.
While caffeine can help people tap into their aptitude for innovation, you need to find way to persuade them to activate their natural abilities on their own.
Don’t look for ways to make people more creative. Instead, address the concerns blocking the release of creative energy. Try the following:
- Figure out why innovation matters to the organization and what’s at stake. For example, what’s keeping you up at night?
- Replace “innovation” or “creativity” with the actual desired goal.
- Address your teams concerns about the past, present or future depending on their perspective. Explain how the goal addresses it.
Going through these steps will help you as well. That way, you’ll know you’re not just trying to innovate for the sake of innovation.