What to do when your organisation’s creativity stalls? Tips on how to develop creativity skills
Organisations are living systems that contain many interacting entities to form the whole. Teams, departments, business units, processes, product characteristics are all connected to each other. Understanding and influencing the relationships and underlying dynamics between them is critical to achieve a more creative environment.
Renewal and creativity are innately present in organisations that are in flow. People are encouraged to experiment and share the learnings – successes and failures – across the company. Ideas are welcomed and explored. Employees at all levels are engaged and their energy is channelled towards a common ‘improvement’ goal.
Typically, there are multiple processes in place to capture those critical traits with measurement tools, like employee engagement surveys, CEO round-table discussions, diversity and inclusion ratios and absenteeism rates. And yet, when creativity stalls and all attempts to reignite it fail, leaders find themselves wondering what on earth is going on.
What if we would consider the lack of creativity as a symptom of something else? How can we invite a real dialogue about it, so that we can intervene in the right spot, with the right action and reinstall the organisation’s innate capacity for regeneration and creativity?
Here are some interventions that have proved to be successful:
Reconnect the organisation to the original creative spark and founding spirit of the company
Long lasting companies are often still connected to their roots. The founder has a name and a face, the founding stories are often told. The creative spirit has been kept alive throughout the company’s history, also during critical identity shifts. When you lack those roots, reconnecting the current organisation to them can have a big impact.
Validate whether your purpose is still connected to the larger system
Are you holding on to your previous purpose, being the best and largest in your market, with excellent client satisfaction, quality and safety performance? Do you try to double or triple your revenue or market share?
Or do you have a higher purpose, one that is connected to societal needs? A true purpose will rally the troops on a much deeper level. Solving real societal problems will ignite your employees’ creativity and create a drive to run the extra mile. It requires you to allow your teams to look beyond the company borders and to collaborate with other minds and hearts for a greater good.
Allow time and space to mourn what has been lost from the past
Organisations are going through significant shifts, at an increasing speed. We often find organisations and teams that are still attached to the past, their energy is flowing towards what has been lost, the people that are gone, the way of working from before (a critical shift, merger or acquisition). Allowing time to name and mourn what is lost is proved to accelerate the change process afterwards. A proper ending can ignite the new beginning.
Invite the voices that have been muted
The opposers, the diverse perspectives, the ones trying to raise the flag. Those are often the voices that turn out to be critical for innovation. Either because they point you towards underlying dynamics that have not been resolved yet. Or they are the ones who are challenging the status-quo, who are not limited by ‘this is how we always do it here’, they are not bound by invisible loyalties that are blocking creativity. They can bring in new and crazy ideas. Their fresh perspectives and creative energy will remove roadblocks.
Understand what the price of change is in the organisation
Who typically pays it? People are not usually resistant to change. There might be a change fatigue though. There is a lot to learn from previous change journeys or programs to ignite bottom-up idea generation and empowerment efforts. What was the price of those? And who paid it? If there is a clear added value, if creativity and change initiatives are making people’s day to day life easier, if their voices are heard, it will naturally become a self-sustaining process.
Spoken or unspoken, ask yourself which behaviour is rewarded. Is it conforming or creative problem solving?
When all your KPI dashboards are measuring compliance and driven towards green, there is little chance people will take the risk and stick their neck out to try something new. An environment where experimentation is allowed, where there is room for making mistakes is vital to spark innovation.
Validate whether your processes and tools for innovation match the context
Many improvement teams are reusing their proven methodologies in a context that has become highly unpredictable. In a complex world, where causes and effects are multidimensional and often only visible in hindsight, our typical improvement tools won’t work. Organisational systems react in unexpected ways to your moves. We need to learn how to navigate, probe, sense, using systemic principles as navigation tools, not as user manuals.
If you have a tendency to ‘buy’ innovation – through acquisitions, partnerships or from consultants – pause and ask yourself why you lack it yourself?
In our experience, bought creativity does not find fertile ground when the organisational system does not understand its own dynamics, the ones that killed innovation in the first place.
Looking at the lack or loss of creativity through a systemic lens allows us to explore the inner movement of the organisation, the dynamics and patterns on a deeper layer and the right interventions. Often it doesn’t require that much; intervening at the right level will have a multiplying effect on the entire organisation and recreate innovation and flow.
Mieke Jacobs and Paul Zonneveld (pictured below) are transformational facilitators, experts in systemic intelligence and co-authors of Emergent: The Power of Systemic Intelligence to Navigate the Complexity of M&A