Sure, you’d like your employees to have more buy-in around your company’s brand and mission statement. And no doubt it’d be far better to get your people enthusiastic about coming to the office, rolling up their shirtsleeves, and getting down to work. But you’d be making a big mistake if you think enthusiasm is possible without giving people creative freedom. Nobody gets psyched to come to work as a result of a pep talk, or even a hike in pay; not for long anyway.
The question I have for leaders is simple: Do you really want more creativity and innovation in your workplace or are you just giving lip-service to a kind of change you have no intention of implementing?
Let’s be honest, what many employers want most of all are people who will act within pre-existing, pre-established procedures and guidelines. Very few employers actually want a group of creative, initiative-taking leaders; their companies just aren’t set up to change at that kind of rapid pace. But the problem is the world is changing fast —faster than any of us know.
Creativity demands experimentation. But experimentation often means delays, added costs, and people coming forward with ideas and solutions that may sound absurd. Encountering occasional absurdity is one of the costs —and benefits— of creative freedom; 'absurd' as in say: creating a business around people paying for rides in family cars instead of taxis, or people renting rooms in private homes instead of paying for hotels —think Uber and Airbnb! The list of so-called absurd ideas goes on and on, from hamburgers made on an assembly line, to asking people to pump their own gas.
Let’s say you’re heading a company that has invested overwhelming amounts of time and capital in creating systems and processes to streamline and cut costs; and yet all around you, you can see how rapidly those very systems become outmoded. What’s needed is a new way, not only of looking at your business, but a new way of seeing the world.
By nature, human beings have a penchant for creating permanence, for maintaining order, and for limiting chaos. But maintaining the status quo and relying on processes that seek to limit ambiguity and uncertainty, is anathema to creativity. A masterful artist, that is, one experienced in the process of stretching him or herself to find new ways of looking at solutions, (even if those ways include looking into past precedents,) has become inured to the idea that truly creative work seldom comes with a roadmap. Rather than follow a linear path, innovation often arises from non-linear thinking; in its early stages it may even appear nonsensical. But it’s in that “nonsense” that new ideas are allowed to gestate.
Before a seed can germinate it must first decay. It's not until it’s been buried —tucked out of sight, as it were— and begins to decompose, that its real strength is revealed. In other words, the creative mind must lose sight of its goal again and again. It must be allowed to experience moments of deep frustration and inertia. Only after traveling into the darkness of doubt and fear can anything of value be born. And so how does any of this relate to companies and their need to keep pace in a furiously changing world? Leaders who truly want their organizations to grow and to prosper must re-evaluate their tolerance for ambiguity, for risk, and for experimentation.
We've all seen companies whose main belief is:
'We need a means of maintaining the way we’ve been doing things.'
'We need a means of interdicting the fears that prevent a willingness to change.'
And while some companies may express a desire for creativity and innovation —only the strongest, most sustainable companies know that the costs of actually implementing those ideas are always worth the expense.
Give the smart people you employ a little leeway and they’ll come up with all sorts of ideas that can move your business forward in ways you could never have dreamed.
This article originally appeared in Forbes and is brought to your by our friends at Big Muse.