Creativity Killers at Work

Question:  I am the head of Business Development for a boutique advertising firm.  We compete in a very aggressive market and need to be very creative with client solutions.  My problem?  I am surrounded by people who seem to check their creative ideas at the door.  I am so tired of seeing bland, rehashed solutions.  How can I get my staff to bring bold, innovative ideas to the table?  I’ve tried training programs, recognition awards, nothing seems to work.

Alice Waagen says:  If you hire smart, creative people who have a proven track record for a particular talent or skill and who then stop using that talent after they have been with your firm a while, you need to look for a solution by asking what are you doing to kill their creative juices.  If you or something in the organizational culture is blocking innovation, training and pats of the back won’t work.  You need to find the roadblock and barriers and remove them. 

One of the biggest killers of innovation is how business leaders handle mistakes.  Creativity is inherently risky.  Truly unique ideas are those that have never been tried before.  A creative person looks at a situation then makes a leap in a totally new direction.  Because innovative solutions are not tested with time and experience, they can have a high failure rate.  But here is the rub:  if mistakes are not tolerated in your work or are perceived as resulting in negative repercussions on the creative person, creativity will dry up pretty quick.

Look to how you handle mistakes and errors.  If I am working with a client and propose a new approach to the work that the client rejects, putting the deliverable behind schedule, what happens?  Am I taken off the contract?  Publicly reprimanded?  Told that my work is not good?  My next set of ideas will be much tamer.  If on the other hand, I am praised for thinking differently and helped with managing the client relationship going forward, I will continue to surface new ideas.

Making mistakes is one of the biggest contributors to learning.   If I make an error and learn how to fix it, I will grow my skill and knowledge set.  If I am blamed and punished for my errors, I cease to try anything new and stagnate my skills.  Take inventory of how you and your leaders handle mistakes, both in actions and words, and you will find the roadblock to creativity in your shop.