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How to Encourage Innovation and Creativity – Part 1: Find Your Own Voice

by: Chris Knotts, PMP –  ASPE Creative Director

Learning to stay fresh and creative is becoming more important every day in the world of business. Nurture the pillars of creativity in your day to day work, and the rest will follow. This week we’ll be offering insights into how professional creatives keep the mojo flowing.

Creativity is no longer just the realm of artists, designers, and filmmakers. Although a lot of smart businesspeople have known this for a long time, I think it’s fair to say that the mainstream business world is recognizing that creativity — not just as a talent, but as a specific skill set —is rapidly rising in value. As a plethora of skills and sectors get outsourced, automated and commoditized, where does the real value lie? It’s in the ability to see connections and solve problems in a way that brings fresh, original perspective to a situation.  Thus it’s becoming more critical for all sorts of professional roles to adopt repeatable creativity as part of their regular toolbox.

Let me be more specific about what I mean by creativity, because folks mean different things when they think of this word. Some think of the arts: visual arts, writing, the theater, etc. Some think of design-oriented work: graphics, architecture, interactive design, etc. Others associate it with innovation, or the ability to invent something new using technology. For some it’s a talent, and for others it’s more of a general mindset. The list could go on.

Creativity…fundamentally…is the ability to use our human brains to generate something out of nothing. At first, that “something” is a basic thought or idea, which becomes the building blocks of our concepts and visions. With development and execution, we bring these into the physical world in various ways. That might mean creating a painting, or it might mean writing a piece of software. So then, when I refer to creativity I’m talking about this basic human process, beyond just traditionally creative fields like literature or the arts. It’s the same magical quality no matter what, though.

Taking things a step further, what we’re really interested in here is how we can summon that magic whenever we want and use it in our work. We want to capture the creativity that’s so vital to a great painter and reconcile it with the daily business life of a project or software professional. That is to say, it’s time for creativity to get married to its old nemesis: practicality. We’re all familiar with the classic images of fiery Mozart; moody Michelangelo; haunted Kahlo — the volatile artists driven by passions: fiercely creative, in which inspiration may occur at any time, causing mighty ideas to spring forth. But alas, we need to harness that same type of thing in a way that’s a little more applicable to our business needs — a little more repeatable, a little more “on demand.” Is such a thing possible?

It is. And you’d better be practicing it, because you know as well as I do that relying only on predictable, conventional solutions to solve your business problems just isn’t going to cut it.

So, here are a few things to keep in mind – the more you can remember them, the more conducive your brain will be to thinking creatively.

  1. Creative insight #1: Find your style. Speak and work using your own voice.

Folks have different styles: communication styles, work styles, lifestyles, personality styles, etc. This is important for 2 reasons. First, you’ve got to learn to appreciate your own style and the styles of others. Second, you should learn to capitalize on your individual style. Spend some time thinking about it, and work with your team to pinpoint the qualities that define each members’ individual style .

Your style matters, because in the 21st century authenticity is key. There’s no longer any room for snake oil salesmen. This applies to just about every profession, but it’s especially vital for anyone who needs to think creatively. By definition, you can’t create if you’re copying. (Although it is important to take in the creative results of others to keep the juices flowing). So you have to find your style and work in a way that’s compatible. This is critical to a good creative process. If there’s no room to bring your own sense of identity into your work, your passion and motivation will soon suffer, and the creative juices will dry up. So spend some time thinking about what defines your personal approach to work. Are you detail-oriented? Are you brash? Are you a dreamer? Take ownership of these qualities; they can all be leveraged as you do your job. Urge your employer to let you perform your work in the way that flows most naturally for you –  but remember, you have to deliver results!

It’s also about tapping into the potential of what you can really accomplish as an employee and as a team. For instance, my firm trains a lot of business analysts. One of the first things they are taught is to map the communication styles of the people on their teams. This lays the groundwork for the team’s communication structure, which will be one of the pillars of success for any project. Once they’ve identified communication styles of team members, they can set up interactions in a way that is compatible. Thus, the potential of the team is maximized.

Finally, identify things you’re doing that seem to run contrary to your style, and spend a few minutes thinking about whether there are things you can do to bring your work more in step with it. Equally important are the styles of your team members, so spend some time profiling their styles as well. For teams, this is a great exercise and can really raise awareness of the interpersonal dynamics that exist. Of course, you probably won’t be able to completely align everything about your work with all your individual preferences; that’s just real life. But every good creative professional knows that style is critical, and it should be viewed as an asset.

Further reading:  For more discussion about style, check out this article from Forbes: The Five Personalities of Innovators: Which One Are You?

Thanks for reading our first post on creative insights. Every day this week, we’ll continue to look at more creative advice for creative work. In the meantime, we want to hear about your experiences solving creative challenges, and what you think is valuable. Email me at or send me a tweet: @chris_knotts. You can also follow my training firm at @ASPE_Inc – we love to hear from you.

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