It's hot in August, many of your employees are on vacation, and your best creative minds are not producing as well as usual.
Inevitably, creative droughts are going to happen every now and then. Scott Anthony, the managing partner of strategy consultancy Innosight and the author of The First Mile, tells the Harvard Business Review that it should be "no surprise that the ideas coming out feel as though they've all been done before," when your employees are "seeing the same data, interacting with the same people, and having the same conversations."
When this happens, you need to switch things up. The first step is to diagnose the situation--the lack of ideas could be a result of boredom, lack of motivation, a stressful environment, or a number of other issues. Next, take a look at the methods your team used to innovate in the past, and resurrect the dynamic or environment that brought about an idea.
"Maybe it was a good idea before its time or maybe it was an idea that was not managed well," Anthony says. "You're not looking for the perfect idea, it's what you do with the idea that matters."
Read below to find out six ways you can enable creativity and get your employees out of that rut.
Narrow the team's focus
Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, a partner at advisory firm The Innovation Architects, tells HBR that sometimes the pressure to innovate is too great. If you're pressuring your team to think of something that will disrupt your industry, help you corner the market, and save you all from financial doom, you'll just perpetuate the rut. Narrowing the focus, Anthony says, can help spur creativity. "Define the task so your team is very clear on what it is trying to accomplish," he says, adding that you should also fight the belief that chaos and creativity are inseparable: "Constraints are the greatest enablers of creativity."
Change your worldview
We all filter information from the news outlets we prefer, the people we love, and the habits we have to create tidy, customized worldviews. But when your team is jammed up, you need to expose them to different ideas, habits, methods, and processes. "Great ideas come from people who are immersed in more worlds than just their own," says Wedell-Wedellsborg. Anthony says you should bring your team to a different department and ask them to contribute ideas. You want "to touch and interact with people who are thinking differently," he says. "The magic happens when different skills and mindsets collide."
Don't make success a remote possibility
Your company should have its own success stories that motivate the troops. If you are telling stories about larger-than-life entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, you're making success feel like an impossible feat. "Shine a spotlight on innovative things that have already been done in your organization," Anthony says. "This is something we can do; your peers have done it."
Eliminate the fear of failure
Why do most people refrain from talking about their ideas during meetings? Fear. People are afraid that their idea will be mocked, put down, or just not good enough. Wedell-Wedellsborg says leaders need to fight against the silencing effect of fear and "manage the politics" around brainstorming sessions. "Make sure there's room for people to share ideas in a way that's under the corporate radar," he says, and build a safe, open environment that is welcoming to the shyest employees in the room.
Create avenues of action
If most of your team's great ideas sit in a drawer, that means you have no means of acting on them, and your employees aren't going to remain positive for long. "People get cynical fast after they have a fun and empowering brainstorming session and then nothing happens," Anthony says. He suggests leaders set aside capital for prototypes, experiments, and simulations that arise from idea sessions. If the idea is a dud in the lab, then you ditch it. But if something promising arises, you just got your breakthrough idea. At the very least, paving a road for action motivates employees to come up with the next idea.
Remove innovation from your vocabulary
The word "innovation" is now meaningless. At this point it has "been talked to death," says Wedell-Wedellsborg. He says you should come up with more specific language and focus your energy by explaining whatever it is you're trying to innovate. "Don't frame it to your team as coming up with ideas for an 'Employee Retention Innovation Plan.' Frame it as a 'Making Your Company a Better Place to Work Strategy.' That's something most people can get on board with."