Q: I own a small advertising agency. Needless to say, creativity is critical to our success. How can I motivate my employees to be more creative?
A: In a university class I teach on creativity, I tell the participants that the most important thing they'll learn in the class is that creativity is behavior. It's not a brain thing. It's not a mysterious process. It's not something that only some people have. And being weird and eccentric doesn't necessarily mean you possess it. Creativity as an output of human behavior follows the same laws of behavior as all other accomplishments. If you understand this, you'll be able to increase the creativity of those in your organization who are responsible for creative products and services, and you'll also be able to increase the number of employees who contribute to the creativity level in your company.
Here are a few things you can do to increase creativity and motivate people who need to be innovative on the job:
1. Positively reinforce all ideas. This doesn't mean you'll accept every idea, but you should make sure you reinforce the activity of coming up with ideas. You can be excited about the number of ideas presented even if all of them aren't acceptable or "on target."
2. Make it easy for employees to get new ideas into the system. The more requirements you have about submitting ideas, the less people will participate and the less ideas you'll receive. Even asking people to write ideas on a form can reduce the number of ideas generated. The best way to stimulate creativity is to simply allow people to verbally share their ideas with you, which should be easy since your company is small. Examine your processes and administrative procedures, and eliminate as many as you can.
3. React to ideas as soon as possible. How quickly you respond to ideas has the most influence on the number of ideas people will produce. If an idea or other creative work sits on your desk for a week before you respond to it, you'll have deflated creative energy.
4. Look to unlikely people as a source of fresh ideas. Many revolutionary inventions came from people outside the typical field of expertise. Invite ideas from the widest range of experience, education, social status and age. If you expect you'll find creativity there, chances are you will.
5. Give employees experiences that are far removed from their usual activities. Variation is the mother of creativity. The more varied the experiences you can give people, the more creative they'll be. If one of your employees works primarily on banking accounts, give him or her a manufacturing one. Send the employee to a manufacturing plant. The further afield the experience, the more likely the person is to get some creative benefit.
6. Don't discount chance. Chance favors those prepared for it. When you create an environment using techniques that favor creativity and innovation, you'll find things "just happen" to come along at the right time.
If you remember that creativity is behavior and that you can increase it by positive reinforcement, like any other behavior in your business, you'll be surprised at how creative your people can be.
Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's book Bringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.