How to Increase Innovation & Creativity

We all want to increase the levels of innovation in our organisations – don’t we? Well, often you would be hard pressed to tell from the way in which organisations treat their employees.

Obviously some jobs and roles demand a degree of creativity – designers, for example. But many designers are not innovators – they design within the constraints of the techniques they use and the frameworks they have used before.

So, how do we get people to be more innovative – and genuinely creative?

First, we really have to want it … and show we value it. Remember many ideas fail … they may be good ideas but they will not necessarily translate into profit-making products or services … or effective changes to process. But if we don’t encourage our staff to serve us up these ideas, we can’t expect to get the smaller number that will translate into success.

There are techniques we can use. Everyone has head of brainstorming … though few seem to practise it effectively. However, the real approach is to encourage, to get people to engage with issues and problems … and to give people time and space to think, reflect and ‘dream’. Getting people to engage means engaging with them – respecting their role, their skills, their expertise and their experience … and then getting them to channel that to think about whatever it is you want them to think about.

Of course, the fact that the organisation is expecting and asking them to be innovative shows a degree of trust on behalf of the organisation – engagement is a ‘two-way street’ after all. This is often shaped by their relationship with their immediate supervisor – so ensuring effective selection and training of supervisory staff – and letting them know their role in an innovative organisation or an innovation process – is very important.

Those who are not engaged often see themselves as ‘human resources’ (whoever coined that term did a great disservice to employer-employee relationships!), another number on the payroll. They might even see themselves as ‘victims’ … “nobody listens to me”, “I’m not allowed to think”, etc …. and perhaps to a degree they are (though the really creative often have the talent – and the courage – to rise above such ‘victim’ status.)

Sometimes releasing creativity means you have to explain problems or issues in language that your employees can relate to. Then you get them to think about the issue – in relation to their own context. And give them the time and space to ‘explore’. You can’t demand innovation; you have to nurture it.

In the past I have given my staff a part of the week (perhaps one hour, perhaps one afternoon) when they are allowed to ‘play’ (to think ,to access the internet, to talk to joke) … but always with a particular problem or issue in mind). They respond to the gift of time and always repaid me handsomely.

You can prime such exploration periods (or brainstorming sessions) by asking questions … or getting them to ask themselves questions. For example, get them to think about “What would excellence look like to our customers?” Then think about how their role, their part in the process would have to change to deliver this ‘excellence’. What would they need you to do for them to be able to deliver?

Finally, innovation is not a one-off; we want them to keep on being innovative and creative. To do this, we have to reward them … not necessarily financially... but we have to give praise, to recognise good ideas, to recognise effort.

So, there are four main contributors to increased innovation:

Engage your employees

Help them to ask the right questions.

Give them the time and space to explore ideas and come up with answers

Reward effort and achievement.


Productivity is my 'bag' ... it is what I know about. I am President of the World Confederation of Productivity Science - and Director of the National Productivity Centre in the UK - go to this site for some good free resources and some (paid for but low price) e-learning on productivity. I also edit the International Journal of Productivity & Performance Management. My views on productivity and on learning (which I think are related) are su...

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