Famous artists like Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol often come to mind when we think of creativity. These innovators were famous for their artistic creativity. And while that can be a great thing, there isn’t much room for it in a business environment.
Functional creativity, on the other hand, is highly useful in business. It is a form of innovation that organizations use to come up with better solutions for their customers and can be defined by its objective outcomes.
You don’t need to be a famous artist, or even have any artistic ability, to produce creative ideas. Neither do you have to work at a heralded innovative organization like Apple or Google. Rather, it’s just a matter of having a solid process and a little practice.
Here are some ways to get ideas flowing:
1. Clearly define constraints. Constraints, contrary to popular belief, are actually a good thing. Think about it. When a team doesn’t have constraints, they have no limits to their creativity, but they really don’t have a starting point, either. When clear limitations are not identified, it can actually hinder a timely solution. Common constraints within a business are: time, organizational limitations, cost, quota, customer requirements, competitive environment and price.
Each organization will find constraints unique to its industry. Identify the specific constraints your team will need to work within from the onset. David Sturt, executive vice president at O.C. Tanner shares in this Forbes article, “Constraints: we actually need them to get creative. We need the boundaries to inspire award-winning thinking — thinking that changes possibility.”
2. Know your history. When teams are trying to be creative, they shouldn’t feel the need to re-invent the wheel. They can build upon existing practices when creating customer solutions. Often an old idea works just fine when it’s given a modern twist. Ask your team to make a list of existing business practices; this allows them to know everything that has worked in the past. It will also help them determine whether they need to build on an existing idea or come up with something new.
3. Don’t be afraid to get lost. If a project goes beyond a team’s expertise, what’s next? When a customer has a challenging situation that demands something different to keep the business, or when an organization is trying to win business in a competitive situation, teams tend to lock in on a solution that has worked in the past. When exploring new ideas, try not to retreat to the familiar too quickly. If you and your team have exhausted the first round of ideas, tally up the hours spent to that point. Then take an additional 20% of those hours and commit to working beyond where you stopped. Being temporarily lost is part of innovative thinking. Consider the temptation to turn back as an indication to continue moving forward.
4. Combine unrelated ideas. Combining ideas and significant accomplishments from another industry, culture or, even, period in history, and retrofitting them to you and your team’s unique business problem can spark original thinking. Try not to reach for the convenient answer that repeats the same patterns. Look beyond your company walls and industry norms for solution components you can borrow. Often, you can find a parallel from a different industry that can be implemented into your business solutions.
When was the last time you or your team came up with an idea to solve a customer’s problem? What else could you have done if you hadn’t been limited by the customer’s budget or other constraints? Your team might have had some great ideas that were dismissed by the customer for a range of reasons. But when it ran into those constraints, the team probably pushed a little harder and came up with something more creative that it might not have otherwise developed.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic here, please share in the comments.
Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe, a leading sales effectiveness consulting firm. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with IBM, Comcast, AT&T, Office Depot, KPMG, LexisNexis, Accenture and Verizon, among many Fortune 1000 companies. He is the author of two books on the subject: “The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results” and “What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation.” Connect with him on Twitter @SalesGlobeForum and on LinkedIn.