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It's clearer today than ever before: Businesses must continuously innovate to survive. But how do we determine the factors necessary for sustaining continuous innovation? We have touched on this topic before, but this article focuses on integrating the different factors to bear in mind when attempting to revolutionise your business, including the ingredients for a company’s survival, aspects related to innovation in the workplace, and the importance of having emotionally intelligent teams. 

 

Teresa Amabile, director of research in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, discusses the active ingredients required for a company's survival.

1. Expertise 

"You must have expertise in your domain in order to be creative, whether it's art, mathematics, or marketing, for example. This expertise relies on talent, which is partly innate, but also results from education, work experience, and professional development/on-the-job training. Gaining expertise also requires you to master technical skills and learn new skills in your domain."

2. An Imaginative Perspective

"Creative thinking is crucial for continuous innovation. This type of thinking includes the abilities to assume various perspectives on problems, perceive challenges in ways your competitors are not, and being willing to take risks. Some people are naturally skilled at this, but it's important to know that creative thinking can be learned. It's never too late to improve your propensity to become more adaptable, confident, and original in your thinking."

3. Industriousness

"This may seem mundane, but you must know how to work hard. It's truly imperative in sustaining innovation. Even in extremely difficult scenarios, leaders who innovate are able to persevere."

4. The Right Motivators

"Lastly, you need a particular set of psychological states. My original work investigated the link between intrinsic motivation and creativity. I was able to determine that people are most creative when they're driven by interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and the challenges of the work itself, and not by external goals, external motivators, or external pressures."

Teresa further provides insight into innovation in the workplace. Here is what she recommends managers do to support creativity in organisations:

Autonomy

“One of the most important things managers can do is set clear goals for a project. Letting people know where it is they're going, and why it matters in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, managers need to give people some autonomy in what they're doing. You know about the famous 15% rule at 3M. Google has a 20% time rule. This is essentially protecting time for people to pursue projects that are really interesting to them. This is autonomy. This is feeling that you have a real sense of control over your own work and ideas. Some of the most creative ideas come out of that time where people feel that they have autonomy as long as they have a clear sense of what they're trying to accomplish.”

Resources

“People need sufficient resources to get the work done. A lot of managers mistakenly think that people become more creative if they starve resources a little bit. What I found is that people will be more creative in finding resources but not necessarily in solving the actual problems. It’s important to make sure that people have the necessary information, funding and materials to do their work. Those resources can't be overlooked.”

Time

“Time is one of the most interesting factors that we've studied. It should go without saying that people must have sufficient time to do creative work. We've learned that many managers believe that they can stimulate creativity by putting people under very tight deadlines. That's a myth. In fact, across the board in general, people are more creative when they have a little bit of time to explore a problem, reflect on what they're doing, gather new information, and to talk to people who might have different perspectives, which can be enormously useful.”

 

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotional Intelligence author, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who for many years reported on the brain and behavioural sciences for The New York Times, is often asked if there is any direct relationship between emotional intelligence and the ability to innovate. He has found EI connects with creativity in several ways. Creativity is a complex process – the famous “Aha!” moment of a creative insight is just one stage in the process.

Let’s take individual (as opposed to team) creativity. One classic model of the creative process sees several stages. In the first, you recognise the creative challenge and immerse yourself in anything that might be relevant to the solution. This takes good self-management.

After immersion, you let go – it’s the unconscious parts of the brain that have the widest networks of association, and that put novel elements together in a new way to find a creative insight. It takes a combination of self-awareness and self-management to switch off the immersion and its goal-focus and switch into free association and reverie.

It’s in that free floating state that many of our best ideas come to us, from the unconscious. That’s why so many great inspirations and insights have occurred while people are doing something else, like showering or taking a walk, or nothing in particular.

Once you get a creative insight that can be useful, the final stage is implementation. That typically involves getting other people excited and on board with your idea to follow it through. This means that being able to communicate it forcefully and to be persuasive, i.e. to have developed relationship and empathy skills, become important.

When it comes to teams, the group EI is very important for creativity. People are most free to offer their most innovative (and sometimes whacky) ideas and insights when there is an atmosphere of high trust. If people are afraid of ridicule, put-downs, or dismissals, they keep their ideas to themselves. High EI teams have high trust levels. Then there’s implementing the best ideas. That takes a high level of collaboration and harmony, which help teams to work at their best. And the key to these is, again, team EI.

The discussion this week has emphasised the importance of getting things done through people, keeping them motivated, and building a culture of creativity in the organisation. Motivating people is, after all, the most important undertaking any leader has to master to be successful in any endeavour.