One challenge most leaders face is how to inspire more workplace creativity. There are plenty of clock punchers out there—folks who are physically working but mentally retired. Elevating people to higher standards of performance and inspiring useful ideas requires igniting their imaginations. In my book Leaders Open Doors, I talk about open-door leaders, those individuals who are keen to prevent complacency and lethargy. They know that the mental grooves of habit eventually form ruts of routine. When people see things the way they’ve always seen them, everything stays the same, dulling work to the point of drudgery.
Elevating people to higher standards of performance and inspiring useful ideas requires igniting their imaginations.
As we transition back to work, whether it is in the office, at home, or somewhere in between, keeping employees engaged, connected, and inspired in this new normal is more important than ever. Inspiring creativity and imagination often requires disrupting people’s mental routine and catching them off guard. Consider the marketing meetings a large manufacturer of paper plates held to figure out how to reach more customers. To the people who spent most of their working life centered on this commodity product, the answer was simple: discounting! Whenever the company wanted to increase market share, they would simply pump out more Sunday coupons. But the temporary discount-driven boost in market share would often come at the expense of lower profit margins.
As a result, the division’s leader wanted his employees to be more imaginative than just defaulting to discounting all the time. He wanted them to remember that they weren’t just selling plates, cups, and napkins, they were working for a brand that was deeply connected to the family experience.
To lift his employees out of the rut of discount thinking, the division leader conducted a brainstorming meeting. But this meeting was at a new location, a beautiful community park near the corporate headquarters. The meeting was different because it was set up as a backyard barbeque. There were picnic tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, an outdoor grill sizzling with hotdogs and hamburgers, even outdoor games like horseshoes and tetherball.
When people see things the way they’ve always seen them, everything stays the same.
Of course, there was also something else: lots of the company’s plates, cups, and napkins. They weren’t just commodities; they were an essential part of the experience. The division’s open-door leader used this picnic to help his employees shift their thinking away from commodities and toward values and traditions. They started seeing that on any fall day, their products were smack-dab in the middle of people’s backyard barbeques, picnics, and family birthday parties. The products were important because they helped make family time more fun, enjoyable, and worry-free. Without the picnic table, grill, and their products, a backyard would just be a patch of land behind the house.
If you want uncommon ideas, don’t choose common approaches.
Contrast this leader’s approach to inspiring people’s imaginations to the alternative, which you have probably experienced. Your boss likely gathered everyone in the same old meeting room—the one where people usually drone over monthly accounting reports—to get lots of great ideas. You probably had to hunt all over the building to find a flipchart. Then search again to find a marker that actually worked. As a bonus, the 2 p.m. meeting was just in time for everyone’s after-lunch coma to set in. After everyone arrived, your boss, standing next to a white piece of flipchart paper and holding a black marker, gleefully said, “Okay everyone, let’s get creative!”
The quickest way to get stale, retread, and uninspired ideas is to situate everyone where they do their routine work and have routine meetings. When it comes to inspiring great ideas, the climate you create to gather those ideas matters a lot. Any boss can hold a boring meeting in a tired conference room. By contrast, any boss can also hold an inspiring gathering at the local park, but few do. If you want uncommon ideas, don’t choose common approaches.
How can you create space for your team to think in a more inspired way?