Skip to Content

Proof that the greatest ideas come from junior employees

Sophie Kelly, CEO of The Barbarian GroupSophie Kelly, CEO of The Barbarian Group
Sophie Kelly, CEO of The Barbarian GroupCourtesy of The Barbarian Group

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 Sophie Kelly, CEO of The Barbarian Group.

Getting a good idea through a larger organization can be an art, especially when you’re working to bring creativity and technology together to drive business results (and hopefully make the world more interesting). From my time leading The Barbarian Group through a period of transformation — from a production shop to a tech-centric creative agency — I’ve picked up a few ideas that will hopefully help others put innovative products on the market.

Creativity comes from everywhere
Creative ideas can come from any department, even with designers and writers on staff. At The Barbarian Group, for example, we believe that tech always needs to have a say, while user experience can still deliver the big idea. We aspire to have media and distribution efforts as interesting as the big campaign idea — but it doesn’t stop with departments. When you open up brainstorms to everyone at your agency, you’ll find that many times different perspectives, world views and vocations shake things up a bit and send you on a different path.

Empower people to turn creative ideas into business results
Employees need to be empowered to turn their ideas into something actionable. It is not enough to just spray something out in a collective brainstorm. People need to be accountable for carrying that idea from the early stages all the way through the often-painful slog to the finish line. It is through accountability and nixing the top-down management style that you’ll empower people.

Part of turning ideas into set plans is being accountable for the impact they will make when deployed. This means conducting strong analytic data to examine performance, optimizing on the fly, and informing future work.

Stretch your creativity by getting out of comfort zones
We often have “maker days,” where the entire office is given a brief that needs to be solved within a pre-defined time. The brief isn’t usually about an advertising or marketing idea, per se. It is often product-focused and can be either lofty or tactical (like re-inventing the reception area using technology), which gets people out of the day-to-day. A clear problem to solve, a restricted time period, cross-disciplined teams and pressure create interesting results.

See also: The real reason your ideas aren’t going anywhere

Mentorship from creative leaders is a must
Not everyone has every answer. We need to have great creative leadership that doesn’t finish people’s work for them, but rather helps them take an idea from good to great. Fostering mentorship and creative leadership is how we grow with an evolving team that gets better every year. Finding the right mindset is key.

Your inputs dictate your outputs
Not being afraid to explore and experiment with things you know nothing about is essential to making great ideas happen. Your inputs determine your outputs. Curiosity that threads through the entire agency is what brings actual innovation — not a lofty title. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different output. Keep your sources fresh and current.

Systems enable creativity
Creativity is more complicated than ever before, and can’t be some freewheeling thing. People need to create more content across more channels at a higher pace and scale. Creativity needs to fit into a clearly defined process — both to create and to distribute — and having the right system in place will enable it.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?

How your boss is killing your creativity at work by Jeff Diana, chief people officer at Atlassian.

Why creativity is absolutely crucial in the workplace by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

The one thing that’s blocking your creativity by Kerry Healey, president of Babson College.

How to reward good (and bad) ideas at work by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

4 ways to stop worrying and embrace creative risks by Laura Pincus Hartman, professor of business ethics at Boston University.

Why you absolutely need creative employees by Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.