I recently wrote about how changing your mindset and asking questions can help you understand and embrace innovative practices within your team. Today, I will go into detail by providing practical and tactical steps that managers and leaders can take to promote creative ideas and solutions.

Although many organisations wish to be innovative, few actually achieve it. For a disproportionate number, this lack of innovation can be attributed to one thing: InertiaA preference to remain in the status-quo and to keep the same approach as long as it appears to be working.

This preference to stay as we are is the norm rather than the exception. The uncertainty and risks associated with new things and new ideas are the main reason behind this avoidance attitude. But in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) Business Environment of today, holding on to what worked last year could very well be the leading factor of a firm’s downfall.

The fact is this: Organisations either innovate, or they die.

Managers who wish to survive and grow need to adopt innovation as one of their basic strategies. Innovation demands that people in the organisation learn to THINK CREATIVELY so that they are able to bring about new products, services, and approaches. But how can we think creatively? Through repeated tasks and cognitive schemas, we train ourselves to filter and sort information quickly. This makes everyday decision making easy. Solutions are brought to the surface from the past experience- the way we know things should be. But it is also this very same paradigm that limits creative and innovative solutions, simply because creative solutions and ideas lie OUTSIDE the norm.

We simply cannot attempt to be innovative while holding on to the same mindset as we had before.

To best seize the full power of creative solutions, we need to incorporate creative thinking when managing ALL our decision-making processes. Because the problem-solving process is usually seen as a logical and rational process, most managers erroneously fail to recognise the need to incorporate creativity.

The general problem-solving model can be described as involving the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Gather data/information
  3. Clarify/diagnose the problem
  4. Develop possible solutions
  5. Analyse each possible solution
  6. Implement and Evaluate

The creativity component becomes a dominant element when developing possible solutions (Step 4). At this stage of problem-solving, managers should encourage divergent thinking and insist on the development of a whole range of diverse ideas and solutions to the well-defined problem (Step 3). Problem-solving through creativity in Step 4 simply means we are able to find new ways of solving problems. This is particularly critical when you are not satisfied with the standard solutions – the byproducts of traditional linear thinking.

To take full advantage of the creative development of ideas during Step 4, we need to train our employees on creative problem-solving techniques. Only then they will be equipped with competencies and skills to develop new ideas when dealing with problems in the workplace. In the course of the past 30 years, I have found that managers who advocate creative problem-solving always recommend their team to ask the following 2 questions when developing new ideas:

  • What else can we…?
  • What if…?

To supplement these questions, they also embrace the SCAMPER framework. The SCAMPER framework, originally developed by Bob Eberle, provides easy to follow guidelines for those keen to develop new responses to their problems. SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to other use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

This would mean asking questions such as “What can we combine or eliminate in managing the work process?”, “What if we reverse the process?”, and “What happens if we substitute this approach with another?” These questions invariably will bring out new and innovative ideas and solutions to any problem. Just remember this – Creativity and innovation can be learned. We just have to unlearn and relearn to become more creative when managing problems at our workplace.

Adopting this approach of asking questions and using the SCAMPER framework will give you the ability to foster innovation within your team, overcoming any natural inertia and fear to embrace innovation in your everyday decision-making process. 

As always, if you have any questions about this article, need more information about how to implement this within your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].