Children act creative. Most adults don’t.
Children let their ideas bubble over, making up stories and games as they go.
Ask them to think of how to do something and they’re likely to come up with
several ideas. Adults don’t act like that.
When children are in groups, they toss ideas around like balls. Adults don’t
act like that, either.
Adults should be creative like children because creativity is a natural human
endowment. They’re not because school drives out creative behavior and most
workplaces make sure it stays gone.
When young children get to school, they discover a world where coming up with
ideas isn’t valued much. The problems you get in school aren’t really problems
at all. They’re mostly puzzles because there’s an answer that someone else
knows. It’s usually the person in the front of the room.
So you get ahead by spouting the answer that someone else has decided is
“right.” That world of one known answer is not natural.
In the rest of life there are sometimes several answers that work. Sometimes,
there is no right answer, just intelligent choices. And, most of the time
answers will come from more than one place.
School reinforces the idea that authority figures have the (singular) right
answer. And work sometimes tries to re-create the third grade. Children grow
into adults who learn how to keep those bubbling ideas out of sight.
If you want innovation, you have to let the ideas bubble up. Innovation
starts with ideas.
Then you have let people toss the ideas around like balls. Innovation is when
you combine and modify and add to ideas to turn them into something useful. It’s
almost always better to try things out than to try to plan them out.
If you’re the boss, you can help this happen on your team. You don’t have to
wait for a company-wide directive or take a six week creativity and innovation
course online. Here’s how.
Tell everyone you expect them to share ideas. They
won’t believe you because they’re heard that song before. It’s OK. Telling sets
the stage for acting.
The way you demonstrate that ideas are important is by taking them
seriously. When someone shares an idea thank them. Praise them. Try it
Most new ideas won’t work as is. That’s an opportunity. Ask
for other ideas about how to make the first one work.
Cultivate the twin phrases, “How can we use that?” and “How can we
test that?” They will help you and your team find a path from ideas to
Boss’s Bottom Line
Great bosses know that ideas are the seeds of great performance.