Putting Creativity on the Company Agenda

An entrepreneur offers a system for nurturing creativity and focusing it on your business' problems.

Editor's Note: Josh Linkner will discuss the vital role of creativity in companies at IWs Best Plants conference. See www.iwbestplants.com .

Manufacturing companies operate on a host of business standards and systems such as ISO 9000, ISO 14001 and Six Sigma. But when it comes to promoting creativity and innovation, says Josh Linkner, the process is largely left to happen by chance. There is no rigorous, high-quality business system to drive creativity.

In his new book, Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, Linkner, founder and chairman of ePrize, an online promotions and marketing company, argues that creativity will be the deciding factor in a world of ubiquitous information and increasing complexity and competition. With a constant focus on cost-cutting, efficiency gains and top-down control, too many organizations have lost their mojo, he writes. The problem is exacerbated by the ever-increasing arms race for competitive edge. When the dust settles, the only thing that cant be commoditized is creativity.

Too Many Rules

Linkner says too many companies have innovation processes that actually stifle creativity because they are overly formal and rules-driven. The book lays out a five-stage process Ask, Prepare, Discover, Ignite and Launchdesigned to identify creative challenges, prepare for the creative process, provide techniques for generating more and better creative ideas, and put the best ideas into action.

A company leader plays a critical role in fostering and nurturing the creative capacity of his or her team, says Linkner. Leaders need to drive fear, the biggest inhibitor of creativity, out of their organizations so that employees arent afraid to propose new ideas. He cited a software company that issues every employee two I screwed up cards. Linkner explains: They basically say, go out, use your creativity, take responsible risks and if it really doesnt work out, just hand us one of these get-out- of-jail-free cards. No questions asked, youre off the hook. And, he notes, On their annual reviews, they get kind of mad if employees havent used both of their cards.

Linkner urges company leaders not just to protect their existing business but to focus on what the future is going to bring and to constantly adapt to changes in the market, changes in customer preferences and what competitive threats are doing. Linkner points out that Zipcars, the alternative car sharing service, was not launched by Hertz or Avis, but was a start-up. Companies launch because of a creative culture, because of someone who has had it with the status quo and wants to stick a thumb in the eye of the complacent incumbents, he notes.

Linkner warns against the myth that creativity only applies to the soft side of businesses, such as marketing. He says there is no reason not to look at a manufacturing line and seek creative ways to make it more efficient or to reduce errors. After all, he points out, the concept of the division of labor championed by Henry Ford was very creative and groundbreaking and drove tremendous efficiency.

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