In the VUCA world we find ourselves in, with constantly changing directions, amplified complexity, and uncertainty, individuals, teams, and organizations need to quickly develop creative and innovative solutions to challenges and opportunities they face.
However, despite their best intentions, people leaders may be stifling an individual’s creativity and innovative thinking. This is because they’re missing the one simple secret to boosting innovative thinking: creating the right environment so it can thrive.
For innovative thinking to occur, there needs to be a safe environment where individuals feel empowered and free to try new ideas without the risk of failure. It’s up to leaders to create that kind of team culture where creativity and innovation are coveted.
To better understand the topic, let’s start by exploring what innovative thinking is, why it is important in the workplace, and how leaders can create the right environment so innovative thinking can thrive. Let’s jump in.
What is Innovative Thinking?
A simple innovative thinking definition is it is the process of uncovering new ideas, strategies, processes, and approaches to develop creative solutions. Innovative thinkers challenge the status quo with the mindset that there is a better way and there can be new solutions to old challenges.
Why Is Innovative Thinking Important in the Workplace?
First, it’s easy to see that innovative thinking adds value to teams and organizations. From problem-solving to staying ahead of the competition, innovative thinkers come up with fresh ideas and new solutions that create efficiencies, reduce waste and costs, meet customer needs, strengthen customer relationships, and solve complex challenges.
How Do You Inspire Innovative Thinking In The Workplace? Create The Right Environment
Creating the right environment for innovation to thrive is top of mind for many leaders. Rizwan Khan, Digital Product Delivery Principal for Etihad Airways, shared his thoughts on innovation for the Project Management Insitute. He said, “Innovation within an organization comes from a certain frame of mind and environment that you create. If you don’t have that environment, people will not innovate.”
In addition, according to The Conference Board’s 2020 C-Suite Challenge report, creating a more innovative culture was one of the top pressing concerns of global executives. While you may not be able to shift the entire company's culture, if you oversee a team of individuals, there are steps you can take to build a team environment that fosters innovative thinking.
1. Build Trust
Innovation and creativity cannot happen without trust, and trust is the foundation of psychological safety. When individuals feel psychologically safe on a team, they feel free to share and explore their innovative and out-there ideas with their teammates without the fear of ridicule. Without a level of trust, individuals will never feel comfortable, welcomed, or open to discussing new ideas.
In order to build genuine trust, you need to focus on establishing relationships and a track record. Start by building relationships with each individual where you take a genuine interest in them, their thoughts, and ideas. Then, demonstrate through your actions that there are no bad ideas and show your appreciation when they bring forth a suggestion.
2. Champion Change
Innovative thinking won’t be encouraged if new ideas are shot down, where the status quo is embraced, or where the most minor changes take forever to come to fruition. The words “that’s the way we’ve always done it” can never be uttered if innovative thinking is desired.
Instead, a team leader should support and encourage individuals to have an eagerness and openness to trying new things, challenge assumptions, and want to create change for the betterment of the organization and the customers they serve.
3. Remove Roadblocks and Red Tape
Company policy and red tape can be an innovative thinking killer. Be an advocate for your employees by removing roadblocks to innovation, championing their ideas to senior management, and discussing corporate policies and procedures hindering innovation and creativity. Find ways to break down internal silos and streamline processes so great ideas can take root quickly.
4. Resource Innovative Thinking
Coming up with creative ideas and innovative thinking can be challenging when put on the spot. Typically, new ideas come when your mind is clear, and you have time to let it wander and the space to think.
Jason Fried, the co-founder of Basecamp, agrees. In an interview for Courageous Cultures, he shared that creative problem solving “requires time to think, consider, and marinade. In most companies, there’s no time for that. Calendars are chock-full and leaders don’t understand that they’ve spread people too thin.”
To foster creativity and innovative thinking, leaders need to resource it appropriately. Encourage individuals to block time out for reflection and creating. Going for a walk or taking a break outside, just to think, can lead to some of the very best solutions to old challenges that have never been solved.
5. Embed Innovation in Your Team Vision and Values
To make innovative thinking part of your team’s DNA, it needs to b
e part of the team vision you create and a central value. In doing so, it is crystal clear to everyone that innovation, creativity, and change are essential, encouraged, and is
how the team operates. To get the entire team involved and on the same page on the vision and values, use our team alignment worksheet, which outlines your team goals, strengths, values, and commitments.
Conclusion: You Can Encourage Innovative Thinking in the Workplace
With the right conditions, environment, and attitude, any individual and team can become one that embraces innovative thinking. To develop innovative thinking skills on your team, investing in team training or working with a professional coach may be just what you need. Luckily, Niagara Institute’s team of training professionals and team coaches has the experience to help any group become one that embraces change and challenges the status quo to uncover innovative solutions.
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