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Why you absolutely need creative employees

August 5, 2015, 4:15 PM UTC
Courtesy of Adam B. Auel

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 Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.

Most people are far more creative than they give themselves credit for. In my experience, if people are given the time and opportunity to express themselves, the ideas and insights they put forward are truly eye-opening especially if it’s a topic they’re passionate about. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t stop at some point and say to myself: “I wish I’d thought of that.” Whether it’s at a meeting, during a phone call or in a casual conversation while walking to the parking garage, someone will say something to me that casts fresh light on the way we’re doing things.

However, creative thinking holds little value if people don’t feel free to share their thoughts. It’s important to foster a culture of open and ongoing communication. If you have an idea, we want to hear about it and explore its potential. Likewise, if you have a question, you should not hesitate to ask it. Whether it’s a one-on-one meeting with your manager, a department-level meeting or an organization-wide conference, people should feel free to say what’s on their mind. That’s the only way to solve problems and develop solutions.

Many people underestimate their ideas because they assume they’re too simple and not nearly as elaborate as they need to be. But it’s important to remember that creative thinking doesn’t need to be big to be better. In fact, we’re reluctant to attach any kind of label, definition or parameter to the concept of creativity. Creative thinking serves as a catalyst; it inspires us to engage in conversation and analysis, and to assess all that might be possible. In the end, however, creative thinking is only a first — albeit vital — step among many required to bring a concept to fruition. When it’s all said and done, the final product is seldom a carbon copy of the idea that got everything started. But that’s not the point. The end goal is to develop better or completely new ways of doing things.

I can’t resist using one of my favorite sports analogies, which comes from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. In addition to being the leading scorer in NHL history, Gretzky is considered to be one of the most creative and innovative players ever to step on the ice. His advice to young players is that “you’ll miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take” and I believe that the same advice applies to creative thinking. One hundred percent of the ideas that we don’t share with others will lead to nothing. The ideas that our people share with us always lead to something better, so we plan to continue following Mr. Gretzky’s advice.