MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization? is written by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
Creativity isn’t about wearing jeans to the office or the free snacks offered at many Silicon Valley startups. Creativity is much more critical to the success of businesses today -- it’s what allows companies to be disruptive; it’s what sets them apart from the rest of the pack; it shapes markets and enhances our lives. The world’s most breakthrough ideas stemmed from creativity -- from IBM Watson to Uber , to Google Glass and Tesla electronic cars -- f ive years ago we would have never thought that these innovations could be the start of something that would transform our everyday lives. Of course, creative ideas don’t always result in a game changing product or problem solving innovation. You have to set the right expectations; creativity can be the start of a new process, which can be an engine for something bigger and better down the line.
As leaders, it’s important that we give our people the freedom to explore uncharted territory and ideate. Creative inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places and sometimes when we step back from our professional environment and take a breath -- be it at the gym, walking around the block, lunch with a colleague , or just talking in the halls -- that our biggest ideas hit us. We need to allow everyone to have their own process to dream, to be curious and to give people a chance to fuel their creative powers.
At Ruder Finn, our F ounder David Finn, had a passion for the arts and he spent much of his free time painting, sculpting and taking photographs. His creative masterpieces hang in our halls and serve as an inspiration to all of us today, and a reminder that when you turn your mind to something entirely different even for a short period of time, it can help push your thinking out of the box.
Build confidence in your people
Creativity is personal. Discussing your most outlandish, out of the box ideas means being vulnerable -- there can be some discomfort here. The only way to allow for successful idea exchanges is to create a safe environment in which there is no such thing as a bad idea and the quirky ideas are loved, encouraged and taken seriously. New ideas should always be recognized and rewarded.
Don’t fill the silence
Silence can be a very uncomfortable yet powerful thing. I notice this particularly in brainstorms -- moderators rush through or hurry along the discussion to fill the void. This is a mistake. Allow for silence and let others speak up. I also work with a lot of people who tend to speak up and grab a topic, sometimes dominating a meeting. It’s important to create the airspace for the quiet person in the room to share their thoughts, too.
Encouraging creativity is one of the most important things we can do as leaders. We must create the space for everyone to think differently -- to disrupt themselves, their business and the way they work.
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