Innovation Zone

Innovation Zone

Tuesday, 03 January 2012 00:00

Six steps to building a culture of ideas

This article first appeared August 18, 2011.


In this climate fresh thinking is the most important tool we have and there isn’t a person reading this who doesn’t have the ability to tap into it to solve any business challenge.


1. Barriers

The major barrier to creativity is not having the space for “strategic play”. Many organisations don’t have an area where employees can get together to share creative ideas. Even if you don’t have the space – you must allocate time to this activity. I first read the term on Kevin Carroll’s Katalyst blog – he was previously a creative from Nike and brings to life strategic play in his book Rules of the Red Rubber Ball.

2. Celebrate the submission of ideas, big and small

Fostering creativity is not just about encouraging, but allowing staff at all levels to submit ideas for anything they see that could be useful for the business. Then it’s about rewarding the submission of those ideas… not just rewarding those staff whose ideas make money.

This creates a culture where people are incentivised to offer up ideas, no matter how bizarre or “out there” they may seem at the time. Often, the most bizarre ideas have merit (if only for their idea-sparking quality) and it’s important for these ideas to be aired in the business, to give it access to choices about which direction to go in.

3. Invite ideas

Put an ideas box in the staff room and a raffle book. Staff write their idea on one side of the raffle ticket, put it in the box and take the other side. If an idea gets up (“Announcement, we are going to run with idea G23!”), staff can choose whether to “own” it, or sit back and watch it come to life.

Or – encourage staff to decorate their workspace as they see fit.

Or – implement a two hour, once a week, DJ-for-a-day session, when staff take turns playing their favourite music for everyone else.

Or – Give one staff member $50 a week to take someone out for lunch, the rules being that the luncheon guest has to be someone outside your business. Go to another floor in the same building and ask a stranger. You both bring a business challenge with you and get “fresh eyes” for a solution.

4. Generating ideas

Brainstorming has long been used to generate creative ideas in the workplace. But the traditional brainstorm is no longer effective (read: BORING, YAWN!) It’s common for participants to feel uncomfortable and under pressure when the group is taking turns saying ideas aloud, one by one, to the whole room.

For a super-productive brainstorm, start with a well defined, one-sentence challenge, with a question mark at the end. An example question might be, “How can we be smarter about staff retention of Gen Y staff in the next six months?” Then, before every creative thinking technique, do a fun warm up. For example, get everyone to contribute to a story or proverb quickly, one word at a time this is a great way to open up the brain.

Brainstorm solo first. You will get, on average, 80% more ideas, yes 80%. Use a creative thinking technique like Random Word Association to get you started:

  • Write down a random word.
  • Then do a quick 30 second word association down a page, writing down anything that comes to mind when you think of that word or any other word that follows.
  • Then use those words, one at a time, and reflect back on your challenge, allowing your thinking to veer off in different directions. 
  • Write the ideas down. 
  • Then pair up, share them and build on them before presenting to the group.

The broad scope of ideas this technique produces is truly amazing, and will give the organisation a huge bucketful of ideas to consider.

5. Using the techniques to respond to competitive threats

Give your brainstorm meeting a shake-up: put nametags containing the names of your competitors on individual team members to identify them as someone from the competition. Then, everyone brainstorms as usual, but from the perspective of your competitor.

For example, your company name is PostSwitch. One of your competitors is called EnergyBlaze.

One of your team members wears a nametag identifying them as “John, Business Development Manager, EnergyBlaze”. He writes the challenge as:

“In what ways can we increase our market share against PostSwitch within the next six months?”

Then you complete the brainstorm activity as listed in the last step.

The ideas you generate are the things you will need to watch out for from your competitor.

6. Support from the top

Ultimately, for a creative culture to flourish in the workplace there has to be support for creativity from top management (that’s you!). Without this support, it’s almost impossible to develop a creative culture.

So, think about how you could use the techniques above in your own business to help inject creative excitement in the workplace and deliver new revenue streams. Doing this is one of the best ways to revitalise an enterprise and is lots of fun too.

Even businesses that have slowed down their manufacturing or product cycles can take this time to reinvent themselves internally using creative thinking. If you dare. The benefits are felt business-wide. Staff feel invigorated and trusted by management, existing clients are pleased by fresh suggestions and new clients perceive the business as dynamic and current.

Visit my for a quick overnight burst of ideas from around the world to get your brainstorm meeting started!

Yvonne Adele had her first introduction to technology as a kid - it was the Commodore 64. Since then she’s been an early adopter and proud geek. Through her business Ideas Culture, she is the inventor of Ideas While You Sleep, an overnight crowd sourced brainstorming service.

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