Creativity is the ultimate ‘hot commodity’, but it is not one you can buy. We constantly need new thinking on the use of materials, process design, work flow, collaboration. Without creativity, organizations dry up and disappear. We see more innovation and change in a year than people used to see in a lifetime. Managing and actively handling change is now a survival skill.
Where do you find creativity in your organisation, and how do you bring it out?
One researcher we identified claimed that to find innovation, you need to look to the youngest people on your team. Apparently, people’s creativity reaches its peak before they reach 30.
Einstein published the quantum theory of light, proof that atoms actually exist, and the theory of relativity all in the same year. He was 26.
Garry Kasparov became the world champion of chess at age 22. Kasparov sees chess not as a game, but as a fluid, infinite realm in which creativity and a surprise are as important as discipline.
The Beatles wrote countless songs that are still played widely, forty years on. They produced four of the top ten albums of all time. John Lennon was 29 and Paul McCartney 27 when the band broke up.
Creativity is unleashed from within the mind of individuals or teams of people working together to spark off innovation. As a starting point, if you want to get the best ideas, you’ll need to create an environment in which people can express themselves freely and willingly. This has nothing to do with generation gaps, or who grew up when. It’s a timeless truth, that for creativity to be expressed, trust and freedom have to be operating.
Play is another feature that sparks creativity. It may be this that creates the impression that young people are very creative – the fact that they like to play. So for innovation and creativity to thrive in your culture, freedom of expression and play need to be allowed and even promoted.
It is important that we treat younger people not as inexperienced and less valuable, who we need to teach rules to, and then make sure the rules are followed. Instead of telling them what to do, we need to ask them what they think and what they’d like to do. Most young adults have an extraordinary range of experience and awareness in realms that people who are now over 40 won’t have dealt with when they were young. Young adults lack experience in the work context and lack confidence in themselves there; so they need more encouragement to speak out their ideas.
Top level managers may lack connection to the ideas and opportunities that technology has brought into the thinking and awareness of younger people. This makes them less understanding of the world we are currently living in, and being able to imagine the one that’s coming next. They are not likely to be the best source of new, innovative ideas. This is not to say that if you’re over 40 you can’t be innovative or creative – of course you can. But to inspire others and prompt their creativity, managers need to start asking great questions. Get comfortable with silence. Get comfortable with being seen not to know.
Asking great questions is one of the search engines for creativity and innovation, whether they’re addressed to young or old. Create opportunities for play, through exercises, quizzes and games focused on the opportunities and challenges being presented to your organisation and you truly will unleash the creativity of your people.