Many business leaders know just how important creativity is, but too often is creativity suppressed in the workplace. You have a great idea but you’re afraid it’ll sound stupid when you share it. You have a wonderful new plan, but dare not bring it up for fear of lash backs. As a leader, is it enough to constantly remind your team members that it is alright to be different? It’s alright to forget everything you’ve learned in school and enter the world of Alice in Wonderland. That 1 plus 1 doesn’t have to equal 2, but maybe 11?
Some of the greatest minds have been dubbed weird, outcast, insane and crazy. Many dropped out of school and some were denied by large corporations until later in life when their talent really stood out. Don’t you wonder whether you’re obliviously working with some of the greatest minds, because they choose to keep it a secret in order to survive the workplace drama and avoid being dubbed eccentric?
This all boils down to how human beings have the tendency to conform. Conformity is about adhering to socially accepted norms and following a set of intangible rules that dictates what it takes to be part of a group. Left to its own natural mechanism, everyone has some degree of conformity (aka Groupthink), and the need to be accepted. Being part of a larger body of community is like a safety net. How many people are ready to spring free and decide, “This is how I’m going to do it because it just makes much more sense?”
So how do corporate leaders identify hidden talents if everyone just wants to be the same? While everyone has their own way to identify and foster talent, here are some of mine:
- Give space for individuals to test out their ideas no matter how small the scale. Even if it’s just about selecting an image for a Facebook post. Give them some guidance, but make sure to mention this is just your opinion and based on your experience. It doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to do things. Let them feel safe to challenge and question you.
- Avoid lashing back at their ideas or dampening their spirits by explaining just how all their ideas are not going to make the cut because of so and so. In the future, they will not dare come up with new creative ideas and feel that it’s perhaps safer to just conform.
- Empower them to make decisions. Meaning, once you’ve given them the power to make decisions, you really should back those decisions even if they end up being the wrong ones. Never pull back the decision making power by stepping in when there is a complaint or a request from another person for you to step in. The message it gives to your team member is how incompetent they are. Encourage them, coach them how to fix it and help them see it as a learning phase. In essence, give them space to fix the problem themselves.
- Lead by example. If you, as a leader, show pro-activeness to come up with solutions and innovative ideas no matter how wacky they may appear, your team members will feel that it is alright and safe to speak up and share their own wacky ideas.
Please bear in mind that these tips are on the basis of having already established a teamwork mindset and mutual respect at a professional level.
The idea is not to build a workplace environment where rules are constantly broken; that would just lead to chaos and another problem altogether, but to discover the right equilibrium between conformity and creativity.