Innovation is where the creative rubber meets the road. Often, our problem isn’t lack of ideas, but an inability to make them happen. Innovation is creativity that delivers, and all great innovations are applied creativity, which is frequently mischaracterized as the uncreative work of project development. Creative Works is a blog series devoted to ways to refine raw creative ore into complete projects.
Pop quiz: Who invented the modern computer?
Unlike some technologies like the radio or telephone, the computer has no single mythological father. Instead, most of the inventions of the digital have been accomplished collaboratively.
As a fan of authentic creativity, I love this. The lone inventor is a destructive myth. In our quest for credit, we underestimate how central the skill of teamwork is to creative thinking and innovation.
We can’t achieve our big ideas alone.
We need the combined efforts of like-minded, passionate people. As a creative thinker, the talents of others is your best resource.
Of course, people also can be the obstacle that destroys your dreams and plans. Not only do we have the ability to collaboratively create great things, we also have the ability to lay them to waste through petty bickering and credit seeking. As Linus says, we love mankind. It’s people we can’t stand.
Since people are both central to creative practice and a major stumbling block to creative practice, I’ve come to realize that the thing that separates the majority who carry unfulfilled dreams and the few who possess an unusual ability to get things done is strong relationships. Learning to lead and work with others is the most important variable for a creative person’s success.
Here are 5 ways I focus on relationships to foster creative thinking and innovation.
1. Believe that the person you’re talking to has something to add to your day.
It starts with respecting others as God’s creations. I get interrupted way more often than I’d prefer, and it often kills my productivity, but I’m okay with it (most of the time) because I honestly believe that I can learn from the people in my path each day. This starts with how you think about giftedness. If you believe that every person has unique giftedness, then you’ll look for how yours and another’s might complement one another.
2. Find the right “who”.
When I was younger I wanted to fix every problem alone. It was insecurity, really. I was desperate to make my mark on the world so I tried to fake what I didn’t know. When I passed 40, I realized that such an attitude is not only fruitless, it is destructive. Now I acknowledge that I haven’t “made it” but I’m no longer going to fake it. Don’t always be a hero. As Jim Collins says, the answer to almost every problem is not a “what” but a “who.”
3. Make other people the hero.
Related to #2, instead of making yourself the hero, make other people the hero. This one is easy once you get to used to it. It seems counter-intuitive at first, because you’re scared that you’ll get squeezed out or caught lacking in a comparison game. But like so many things in life, the answer is paradoxical. The more you give honor to others, the more it returns to you. And as you learn to do this, you discover that giving honor to others is more meaningful than seeking it for yourself anyway. Creativity is a team sport, and while you can mess a lot of things up with too much “me”, you can never go wrong with the simple word “we.”
4. When you have a creative vision, create a clear a sequence of tasks for your team.
Lots of people I know see a complete vision and don’t know how to make it so. Instead of getting dismayed at the distance yet to be traveled, the answer is to break the vision down into a series of small, actionable steps. In The Innovators, Walter Isaacson notes that the Industrial Revolution was built on the simple concept of simplifying endeavors by breaking them into easy, small tasks that could be accomplished on assembly lines. (p. 33) That’s project management. Once you’ve identified the set of tasks, assign them to team members based on their gifts. (This requires knowing what each team member does well, and playing to those strengths.)
5. Focus on solutions, not problems.
A while back I got impatient with a team member’s extended description of a problem he was dealing with. After listening to his complaints for a time, I said to him, “I understand the problem. Give me ideas for what you want to do about it.” Teams come in handy for solving problems, too. Ideas come up more frequently in a small group setting than alone. When problems arise, I like to throw questions back to my team to see what bubbles up.
To learn more about how to enhance creativity and innovation in your organization, check out my book Think Like a Five Year Old. Click here for information and to order now.