Creating the Conditions

We believe that everyone has the ability to be creative, but this creativity doesn’t flourish under any circumstances. The hardest part of the innovation process is getting people to open up and take creative risks. David Kelly in the book Creative Confidence says “Fear of failure… is the biggest obstacle people face to creative success.”

Innovation lies on the frontier of the unknown. Let’s say someone working for a large organisation has a new idea. The natural response from leaders would be ask questions like, “What’s the return on investment? Where’s the market opportunity? What are the operational costs?” But we won’t have those answers until we take the plunge and try it out. Creativity won’t just happen on its own, it’s a responsibility of leadership.

So how do we create the conditions, the environment where creativity can flourish? 

In 2016, Google studied 180 teams to determine why some thrive while others don’t. They found that teams capable of creating a trusting and respectful environment were more likely to use the power of diversity, bring in more revenue, and were rated twice as effective by executives.

Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School attributes this phenomenon to what she calls Psychological Safety; a condition where team members feel they can suggest ideas, admit mistakes, and take risks without negative consequence.

There are three values which underpin and help to create this environment of trust and respect: learning, curiosity, and vulnerability. These three values are interconnected. Adopting an attitude of intellectual humility, learning, and curiosity encourages others to be vulnerable and contribute with unique and creative ideas, confident that they will be respected and valued.

As leaders, we need to identify creativity killers and creativity cultivators in our team and actively promote an environment of trust and respect. We do not suggest implementing an innovation process with your team until this culture of trust and respect has been achieved.

This environment is beautifully depicted in Philippians 2:3-4. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

There are many tools you can use to change the culture within your team, like clear communication, social activities and team agreements. Remember, as team leader, you have the most impact on the environment and culture within your team.