The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization? is written by Bob Borchers, senior vice president and CMO at Dolby Laboratories.
I believe two elements are vital to sparking creativity and innovation: space and catalysts. Space can refer to the actual physical area where you work or mental space: a period of peace and quiet that allows you to study a problem intensely without interruption or, conversely, to let your mind wander and explore. Catalysts, on the other hand, are external factors that spark a novel way of thinking — new people, new environments, and new challenges that get your train of thought moving on a completely different set of tracks. The foundation of Dolby’s business is innovation, so we are always looking for large and small ways to provide space and catalysts.
Recently, for instance, my marketing colleagues and I instituted ‘Blackouts’, two-hour stretches twice a week, in which all meetings are banned. We all know the mental chaos that results from running from meeting to meeting – you find yourself with 15 minutes of free time here, 20 minutes there and that’s it for the day. You can barely grab lunch and keep up with email, let alone think creatively. Blackouts give us all mental space to focus on a project or idea that demands sustained attention, or to think creatively about the next great project we want to pursue.
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Our department has also instituted career rotations, a program that gives people in marketing the opportunity to spend three months in a different Dolby office. They work on new projects with colleagues they haven’t previously worked with, in a new environment. The idea is not only to give people unique experiences that will advance their careers, but to inspire them to think in new, creative ways.
By far our biggest effort to inspire innovation though, is IdeaQuest. In this company-wide event, dozens of teams from around Dolby propose and prototype new ideas. IdeaQuest projects have contributed to many important new and existing products, including Dolby Cinema and Dolby Voice. The event has been so successful because it provides teams those two essential elements: space and catalysts. IdeaQuest teams spend weeks developing their ideas in between their other responsibilities. Then we devote a week to the event itself, with many teams flying in to our San Francisco headquarters from around the world for the intense final preparations. Committing all that time to new ideas transforms dozens of “what if” ideas into fully thought-out proposals.
There’s a quote from our founder Ray Dolby that’s mounted on a wall in our new headquarters: “To be an inventor, you have to be willing to live with a sense of uncertainty, to work in this darkness and grope toward an answer, to put up with anxiety about whether there is an answer.” The quote illustrates the fact that, frequently, innovation isn’t a flash of lightning, it’s a struggle. That struggle will always be difficult, but we can make it a little easier by providing the peace and quiet that creative thinking requires and diverse experiences that spark innovative ideas.