The Assembly Line of Innovation

Many corporate idols have risen to prominence by nature of their innovation or forward-thinking strategies. The entrepreneurial cults around men like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Gary Vaynerchuk often laud their abilities as creative and innovative thinkers as being the key component to their success. As a result, the demand for innovative and creative thinking in the workplace has skyrocketed, with “Creativity” being the #1 most trained soft-skill in 2018.

But it is often difficult for companies to be able to foster innovation within their organizations. After all, creativity isn’t something you can buy in bulk, and “Ah-ha!” moments aren’t rolling off the nation’s conveyor belts. So, what can companies do to stay ahead in the marketplace of new ideas?

Research has certainly helped us crack the code: new studies suggest that building inclusive and equitable workplaces can help boost innovative thinking. This certainly makes sense; workers who face large power gaps with their bosses might be intimated into “sticking with what works” or might not feel welcomed to suggest a new idea in the first place. Imagine the classic scene of being in a meeting with a powerful executive, demanding new ideas or heads will roll. What is a more likely result: an engaging conversation with the room, or complete silence? Toxic, demanding, or high-pressure work environments that are filled with a handful of powerful decision makers surrounded by an army of replaceable minions will force employees into survival mode, where they just try to make it through the day and see the light of the next paycheck.

In reality, creativity might boil down to something even more fundamental: psychological safety. Simply put, workers need to feel that it’s “okay” to be wrong or to fail. It the previous scene, it is unlikely for workers to feel safe enough to move or breathe, let alone be creative.

Fostering a work environment of psychological safety enables creative thinkers to take risks and makes them comfortable enough to pitch wild and crazy ideas (hey, Uber was pretty radical when it started). Inclusive and psychologically safe work environments can also drive engagement and increase worker happiness, which are both well-known drivers of productivity.

For those looking for a place to start, a good exercise would be having a group meeting filled with intentionally bad ideas. This would help ease some tension, have a little fun, and get the creative ball rolling. Once workers get the sense that a bad idea won’t get them a pink slip, they might surprise you with some insightful, actionable, and creative solutions.

Creativity and Innovation Links: