“Why do I keep getting the same safe ideas from my team?” “Why can’t I seem to generate the creative thinking I so desperately want”? In these days of highly competitive consumerism, these questions can keep leaders up at night. Many will gravitate towards a team immersion to inspire out-of-the-box thinking or a change in environment to get out of the sterile office environment. The really desperate ones will do the most dreaded thing of all... forced fun (aka team building). But even if these interventions spark momentary creative epiphanies, rarely do they translate into action. Why? Because there is a break-down in one or more relationships which is preventing it.
Usually in a team, a leader will anoint a person or group of people the “creatives”. Heck... we often times call advertising agencies “creative agencies”. What this intentionally or unintentionally does is give the job of “creativity” to just a few individuals who now act as the gate keepers to creative ideation. If this is how they are defining their value, how open do you think they are to other creative input? Even if a leader states “creative ideas can come from anywhere”, the infrastructure isn’t conducive to this mandate. What the team really hears is: “creative ideas can come from anywhere. But they must pass through the creatives and be deemed in their (subjective) point-of-view adequate to pursue.” So, one of two scenarios likely occurs: 1) Someone(s) try to heed the call but the designated “creatives” aren’t interested. These someone(s) get frustrated because of the lack of collaboration. The leader then gets frustrated because there is a lack of harmony. 2) Nobody bothers because they fear scenario #1. Does this sound like a thriving creative environment?
In order to effectively harness the creative talents of the entire team, new relationship operating principles need to be established. Here are the big 3:
1. Being a “Creative” is everyone’s job. It isn’t the role of a single person but the expectation of the team in general. And, the leader of the creative development is... the leader of the team. Why? Because they are the leader of the team. This may make your “creative agency” uncomfortable. That’s ok. Just reinforce that you still find their input invaluable and their contribution goes way beyond creative ideation. It may be a bit awkward for awhile as they adjust, but ultimately, it will be forgotten when the team is getting accolades for break-through work.
2. Team source ideas. Give everyone a brief or an assignment with a specific ask to generate ideas against. Convene everyone to share their top 1-2 ideas. Bounce the ideas around evaluating pluses and minuses as well as which ideas pull the most positive passionate energy. This increases the chance of making non-obvious connections which can be game-changing. Tip: Consider inviting a few respected individuals from outside the team who aren’t as close to the work for an external perspective. This can reveal insights you never considered.
3. The leader makes the decisions on what ideas to progress based on the input. That’s right. The leader. There is no team voting or power-dotting or any other way of choosing. The leader is responsible for choosing because the leader is... well, the leader. This also establishes the expectation that all ideas will be heard and given due process. Watchout: Don’t try to appease everyone by moving all ideas forward. This builds zero credibility and respect for your leadership. You must choose! Tip: Use a set of criteria for which you will evaluate the ideas against. Kind-of like a rubric teachers use to evaluate projects at school. This provides transparency on what is important in the decision and makes it feel more objective.
This builds a new culture of respect for the creative process and establishes the truth that you really do believe good ideas can come from anywhere. Which means, people will be more motivated to go above and beyond to share just how creative they can be. What’s more, because people feel heard, they will more quickly get on board with the ideas progressed forward. And these operating principles work not just for creative ideation but for any sort of creative problem solving.
It can be challenging to change the status-quo, but remaining in a constant state of futility is even more excruciating. When you question your path, recall how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr defined leadership “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.” Still struggling? Give us a call.
Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency focused on helping start-ups, small and mid-size businesses quickly capture the hearts of their customers without breaking the bank. They believe in “real-time brand-building”, which delivers strategically-informed execution, creating immediate business impact while also developing equity for systemic growth. And since their team consists of an extended network of talented freelancers and boutique agencies, they do not require hefty retainers and contracts to do it. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com and April@Forthright-People.com.