The 3 Best Ways To Encourage Business Creativity

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Business creativity doesn't only involve your marketing team - it branches out into the whole company. Here are 3 ways to foster innovation, success and growth including the entire staff.

I’m finally (officially!) completing my Master’s with my thesis addressing the organizational creativity in startups. I feel I can’t – and shouldn’t – keep this theoretical and practical knowledge all to myself. If it turns out to be of any help to new and young firms, I want to try and provide them with information in a concise and structured way.

What Does Business Creativity Even Mean?

Virtually every single startup founder I’ve spoken to nods their head furiously once the conversation turns to creativity and admits that it’s vital for their startup. But as the conversation goes on it shows that they all have a rather vague understanding of what business creativity stands for and – what’s even worse – everyone’s understanding of the term is different. What I mean by business creativity is the ability to quickly come up with multiple ideas, which are feasible and help to develop the business you’re in. Basically, your imagination and improvisation aim to shoot at problems and challenges the company faces.

It’s not just your marketing or web design ‘creative’ agency – with all due respect, they are mostly creative, but the subject runs deeper than that. With scarce resources and nonexistent market power, startups constantly need to improvise and find non-standard ways to face their challenges. As one of my friends, who runs a tech company, remarked, ‘if we stop being creative, we’ll probably die’.

The good news is: you ARE already creative! Much more, in fact, than those heavy corporate whales, having become too rigid and entangled in existing processes and rituals. Good startups are way more flexible and adaptable to new scenarios, which makes sense, as they need to zig and zag among much more than established counterparts. Have you been working from your home or garage with nothing but your laptop to save on rent? Was your first website made by your co-founder‘s sister, who studies web design? Were your deliveries initially done using your friend’s van? If so, congratulations! You’re already improvising and navigating in the minefield of limited resources.

How To Encourage Business Creativity In Startups

The biggest guru of business creativity is Teresa Amabile, keen promoter of finding creative effort in the everyday organizational environment, and conductor of lots of field experiments you’d better not try at home. It’s worth checking out some of her articles – just a couple of them, I’m easy on you with academic stuff there. But she backs you up with many aspects of corporate culture, which you are currently struggling to build, so why not use some scholar experience for your company advantage?

#1 Goodbye 9-5

One of the basic rules to not crush the creative sprouts in your team and yourself, is general freedom of corporate culture, including flexible working hours – but you might have already guessed that intuitively. It’s surprising, how many startups continue clinging to the 9-5 pattern! Come on, we’re all responsible and professional grown-ups here, aren’t we? (Even if sometimes we play games deliberately – that also enhance creativity, by the way.) We all have our job descriptions (however vague), tasks and deadlines, and as long as everyone sticks to the point, who cares what hours he or she spends in the office, the nearest coffee shop, or on the park bench. If you, as a founder, are reluctant to abandon safer grounds of fixed hours completely, it’s still worth allowing a certain amount of freedom, such as long weekends, earlier or later shifts, half-days, etc. But I’m sure you’re doing this already.

#2 Encourage Your Team

Speaking of tasks and deadlines moves us to the second important point: a result-oriented environment. Just consider this: you’re paying your staff (and yourself eventually), what is more, your investors give you money, based on your results. When you clearly identify the goals and communicate them to your team, they, ideally, get engaged and inspired with the possibility to contribute to the startup’s growth. So, when you literally untie team members’ hands in terms of means, nothing prevents them from searching for a faster, easier and more inventive way to solve any given problem.

As I mentioned already, it’s necessary that the founder(s) and their team have the same flame burning inside them and breathe the same company goals each day. I’m talking about motivation, of course. As cliché as it may sound, creativity of the team or the whole company is more than just an arithmetic sum of its individual parts. Some researchers find that even if some of your team mates don’t find the company goals as exciting, they would still do their best if they feel that they are an integral part of the team.

#3 Leave The Money Out

While your investors push for increasing return on their investments and rapid monetary growth, your creative co-workers might not be so interested in money as you may think, in fact, the opposite is quite true. Also interesting is that a higher salary actually inhibits creative effort, as people are less inclined to experiment and take risks. Now of course, that doesn’t mean you should immediately cut compensations – as your team would most probably not appreciate that – but instead consider impressive opportunities and fantastic perks, which await those who are about to join your startup. Believe me, for your target pool of candidates, the opportunity to become a part of something incredible and achieve ambitious goals together with like-minded people is much more motivating than over-market-average salary. The shareholding scheme, which you may consider as well, will show how much your team believes in you and in what ways they are contributing to through-the-roof-growth.

Regarding everything you’ve just learned it’s also worth pointing out that freedom and flexibility are great, but nevertheless you are the boss and should by no means neglect this function of yours. Having employees, who write poems and play violin, is an amazing addition to the everyday organizational routine, but we’re talking business creativity here, and you need to make sure that creative effort is used to address the challenges of the company – in the office or whatever place your staff prefer to work from. A sensible amount of supervision is vital, so establish deadlines, project owners, responsible reporting and evaluation criteria. Communicate them to your team and stick to them. But don’t overdo – you’ve hired all these people knowing they’re the best in what they do, so what’s the point in micromanaging?

That’s your food for thought for today – hopefully, you’ll find ways to implement these strategies in your startup and thus foster growth and success.



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