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Harnessing Innovation: Encouraging and Channeling Creativity in 4 Steps

Jean Janes

Posted by Jean Janes
February 1, 2016


So you want an innovative team to take your product/business/company to the next level—

It’s an auspicious and exciting goal, but what are the mechanics of a team that can both output creative solutions and stay within the parameters of your project?

Below is a list of four steps to building a powerhouse team of innovation, intended to point you up the path to brilliant ingenuity. By hiring the right people to build your innovative dream team, you have to know what to look for as well as what political and personality pitfalls to avoid. Once you’ve got your team of creators, provide them a platform with both breadth of scope and a clear purpose. Channel this creative energy by providing the right leadership to see your team through to resolution and success. 


#1 - Hire the Right Innovators: Know It When You Hear It

In How Do I Hire Innovation Talent? What Are The Telltale Experiences, Skills And Signs Of Innovation Leaders?, an article for Maddock Douglas, John Coyle writes about some specific warning signs and indicators of promise to be on the look-out for as you hire for your team.

Coyle explains that to build a team of creative and thoughtful people unafraid of big ideas, listen to how a potential employee speaks. You want learners, open-minded, and forward-thinking people. He writes, “learners will tend to ask more open-ended questions, be truly curious, and take responsibility for setbacks by looking within first.” Avoid individuals who look back at mistakes with bitterness or negativity, as this tends to be a strong indicator they have trouble moving forward professionally, unencumbered by old or flawed thought patterns. Coyle explains, “Listen for the language of blame and complaint” and try to find those who have learned from their past, own their previous weaknesses, and have taken tangible steps to repair them.

Coyle suggests we seek out people with the “creator mindset” and that we’ll know them by how they “take the opposite approach: viewing past challenges and failures philosophically, sharing their part in the outcomes and taking responsibility and, ultimately, focusing on what they learned.” By listening to the tone of reflection a prospect takes towards his or her professional past, we can build a team of energized individuals, enthusiastically looking to new approaches and diverse perspectives.

#2 - Prepare for the Snares of Collaboration and Creative Freedom

In How To Prevent Team Politics From Sidelining Innovation from Fast Company, contributor David Dabscheck discusses how innovation usually means disruption.  Without  careful consideration of the players involved, innovative space can become clouded by discontent and ambition. Company politics are generally just another way to say people in a group trying to get along. If you have more than one person, there will be politics of some sort. Dabscheck leads his article by stating, “There will be politics when there’s no innovation, but there’s never innovation without politics.”

Inevitably, the strong, independent thinkers you want to assemble for your team will have opposing points of view; in fact, destabilizing minds are a prerequisite for true innovation. Dubscheck asserts that being rid of politics is not the solution, but rather figuring out the best way to guide those tumultuous group dynamics into a positive outcome. He asks, “The central question for innovation then, is not how can we minimize politics, but rather, how might we manage it?”

In her TED talk, How to Manage For Collective Creativity, Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, explains the necessary personality intricacies and constraints that need to be in place for productive innovation.

Hill explains, “Innovation is not about solo genius, it's about collective genius.” To guide those multiple geniuses you’ve fought to find and hire, their efforts must be both set free and coordinated. She continues, “You have to unleash the talents and passions of many people and you have to harness them into a work that is actually useful.” To harness those innovative powers, you must set the proper parameters to provide for creative, out-of-the-box solutions, while still working toward a project resolution.

One such way, Hill explains, is to have a leader who is more “social architect ” than manager. A social architect is a mediator, intermediary, and arbitrator. They guide without directing, maintaining a steady course, but capable of understanding the map as a whole rather than viewing the team mission as a single highway to job-complete . This social architect will allow for “creative abrasion, creative agility and creative resolution.” Hill explains that, by allowing for these three stages of the innovative process to play out freely, innovative results are able to best develop.

#3 - Provide The Stage For Innovation and Creativity

With your team in the right hands, the stage is ready for the play. Creative thought is blinding and brilliant, but if you want it to be productive, it must be harnessed.

Creative abrasion, Hill describes, is debate, discourse, and diversity, which must thrive and develop, but within the parameters of productivity. Being able to argue a new approach is essential to ironing out dissent and flaws, but there must be a point at which competing ideas coalesce into a singular solution.

Creative agility is “being able to test and refine that portfolio of ideas through quick pursuit, reflection and adjustment.” Your social architect leader must take the reins, get the team on board, and start trying out these incredible ideas. One important point worth reiterating from what Dabscheck mentioned above: politics at this stage are key. After all, Dabscheck states, “successful innovation all comes down to people.” As each contribution is afforded consideration and respect, when the moment pruning decisions come, the team as a whole can move past personal competition in favor of the greater goal. Team politics are not to be ignored or discounted, but instead redirected into cohesive forward momentum.


#4 - Channel Dynamism Into Innovative Results

Hill explains the third aspect of the creative abrasion and creative agility triumvirate is “creative resolution.” Creative resolution “is about doing decision making in a way that you can actually combine even opposing ideas to reconfigure them in new combinations to produce a solution that is new and useful.” There would be very little point of an innovative endeavor if, as the ideas were condensed into possible solutions, your team was incapable of creating an inventive outcome. Being able to recognize a ground-breaking result is fundamental to success, and why you’re hiring innovative talent in the first place.

To bring these viewpoints together, your social architect can preside over the debate and discussion, but your leaders within your team must help focus results. In Coyle’s article, he explains that, in addition to your innovative thinkers, you need to have innovative leaders. You must not only have both, but you must balance these personality types. Coyle explains that you must have both “(Ring)leaders” and “Idea Monkeys. He says, “In innovation work, it is essential to: A) have a balance of both mindsets, and B) ensure that both archetypes work together in a respectful way.” Create, debate, discuss, and resolve: wash, rinse, repeat, and ideas and creativity may flow unencumbered by ego or ambition—ideally.


Hill closes her TED talk with a final and poignant directive: “Our task is to create the space where everybody's slices of genius can be unleashed and harnessed, and turned into works of collective genius.” Building the perfect team isn’t a viable goal. Instead, success will come to those who focus on providing fertile ground, allowing for wild growth, but having the right gardeners on hand to trim and shape inspiration into tangible development.


Jean Janes

Jean Janes

Jean is the Operations and Marketing Manager at Luna Data Solutions. When she's not writing, she's researching or reading.

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