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 Amit Srivastav, president of Infinite Computer Solutions.
Creativity is often the core of any business, but it’s one of the trickiest components to maintain. This is particularly the case for technology, where creativity is its own currency and a tech company can live or die by the strengths of its new ideas. Faced with competition and flush with capital, Silicon Valley tech companies have added full snack bars, game rooms and even designated vacations, to capture that elusive spark of creativity and give them an edge in their industry. (GOOG) Google famously designated “20 Percent Time” for their engineering employees to explore their own personal, creative projects.
For traditional and mature technology businesses such as IT services, this can be a bit more challenging to implement; customers expect a level of service and financial savings, and creativity may take a back seat to servicing these well defined and time managed requirements. An added challenge of creativity is that it is an inherent risk: a new idea might fail, and that margin of error in a business like ours is very small due to the inherent constraints of the business. However, that this fear is misguided. There is always an imperative to find new markets and technology to stay ahead of the curve. This is the nature of technology.
And so the risk of creativity is worth taking, even if it is an investment that doesn’t immediately see a tangible, financial return. The reward is much more profound — businesses don’t grow because employees were simply competent; they grow because employees are constantly encouraged to share their ideas and take strategic risks, bringing their company to a new level of maturity.
A small or mid size business cannot be a Google, but they certainly can respect Google’s dedication to creativity. Creativity to a large extent is cultural. However, organizations need to provide the structure and the expectation of new ideas. Risks should – and needs – to be encouraged. Even Google has had their missteps – for every Google Maps, there are several other ideas that did not make an impact. Not every creative idea will succeed, nor should it be expected to. The key is to provide the time, space, and resources to build and foster that creativity, and integrate it into the heart of the business. I’d also add that it’s critical to recognize individuals for their input at the highest levels of the organization.
The resource side is relatively simple. Infinite, for example, sets aside a fund for new ideas with little expectation of the outcomes, and it doesn’t have to be a substantial commitment. $100,000 is not extensive in the scheme of a $300 million business, and the potential reward is immense. There’s also time set aside – even for people engaged with our largest clients – to brainstorm what can be done differently that could potentially give the client better rewards.
We implement this creative process through the concept of “Value Registers” – a defined capture mechanism for any idea that adds delivery excellence, financial savings for the client or a new way to define and deliver established processes. This Value Register is an inherent part of our business proposition to all our clients. There is a substantial reward and recognition program associated with the entries in the Value Register that gain the most impact for our clients.
The recognition side offers a more intangible contribution to creativity. Modest financial incentives for creativity can work – however, I find that the more intangible rewards for creating, developing, and executing a project with your name attached are even more powerful nurturers of creativity. There are few things as satisfying as when your big win is presented before a client and the entire business. The additional benefit of this expectation and structure is that it fosters the kind of company culture that drives success – dynamic, energized, and engaged. We select our talent for their capabilities; all we have to do is give them the resources to capitalize.