Innovative Environment: Six top tips

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

“Bog, bath, bus” said one member of Innovation Group LIVE! when asked where to get new ideas. I would add bike – just some of the places where we are free get creative.  After the comprehensive spending review, standing out from the rest is more important than ever. Why is it that you get the best ideas out of your office and what can you do to bring creativity into the workplace?

October’s Innovation Group LIVE! was on fostering a culture of innovation.  Several of the members expressed dismay at ever changing their organisational culture.  One mentioned, “When we put forward an idea of creating a place to encourage ideas and creativity- our executive said ‘good idea’ and sanctioned a budget for beanbags!  Not quite the creative space we had in mind.”

Culture is hard to change.  It is embedded into whole nations and deeply rooted in organisations.  It is about foundations, history and values. It is wrapped up in the personality and style of the leader.

Climate is more adaptable. You can influence it. Climate varies.  Climate is to do with the atmosphere around you, not just the physical environment. If the culture of your organisation is not conducive to creativity and innovation, don’t give up: the micro-climate can be of your making.  That’s one reason why bog, bath and bus are places where ideas arise.

Apart from freedom of mind, what else can you do to create the right atmosphere for innovation to thrive on your project? Here are a few questions to ponder:

1. Does everyone on the project feel involved? Involvement increases motivation – if someone is sitting on the sidelines, find out why and give them a way of being involved.
2. Can staff decide what they do and when to do it? Autonomy and freedom to act (within the requirements of a project) get people buzzing and taking responsibility as well as pursuing their own ideas.
3. Is there trusting support allowing staff to be open with, and questioning of each other?  If the climate is one of mistrust it means that good ideas are not explored, shared and debated. Bad ideas are pursued because there is no frank feedback.
4. Are time deadlines unrealistic?  If every minute of time on the project is proscribed, there is no space for developing those ideas that might pop up and add value to the project.
5. Are you having fun and getting on? Children are more creative than adults and they have a lot more fun. Recreating that sense of fun and humour, free from personal tensions, not only makes for a better working environment, but also helps with creativity.
6. Are you comfortable with risk? New ideas are by definition untested and require intelligent risk taking.  A creative climate supports a level of risk and uncertainty and avoids blame.

Climate change doesn’t have to be a bad thing! What practical advice do you have for improving the creative climate?

Katherine William-Powlett’s blog

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