Decades ago companies could stay alive based on the strength of their products alone. Today it's different--consumers are constantly plugged in and they're fickle with their affinities, which are largely influenced by the content they consume online. Are your ads entertaining them? Do your videos strike an emotional chord? Are you engaging with them authentically on social media and endearing them to your brand?

What you need is creativity--lots and lots of it coming from your employees who need to get work out the door much faster than they once did. Suzy Deering, CEO at digital agency Moxie USA, which boasts clients such as Quilted Northern, Coca Cola and Chic-Fil-A, has some ideas about how to foster a culture of creativity.

Tout creative thinking throughout your organization.

Companies that are good at cranking out novel ideas understand creativity should not be the domain of only certain departments. It's a way of thinking that should pervade your entire organization, including functions like finance or IT. To keep creativity at the forefront of everyone's minds Moxie USA sends a Friday email to all of its 600 employees shouting out the top handful of the company's creative successes across functions every week. "It's just a philosophical difference of what is creative and what makes creativity," Deering says. "It comes from anywhere."

Encourage in-person relationships.

If your workers are outfitted with modern technology there's a good chance they never have to leave their desks to get their work done. "Relationships are not necessarily done through email," she says. "It's a tool that we can use, but some of the best discussions and best thinking comes from... having a thought and sharing it with somebody live where you can go back and forth and bounce off of each other."

Encourage employees to leverage non-company contacts.

Your employees know lots of talented people, whether it's family members, neighbors or friends. Why not tap them for ideas, advice or connections? For example, another company that does this is Chicago-based GiveForward which sends job descriptions to well-connected investors, posts them on Facebook, and emails them to employees and their personal connections during a hiring campaign. Once a job listing is passed on to people who may not have a relationship with the company (and thereby aren't inclined to help), referral incentives keep them sharing. Meanwhile, all these people are reading GiveForward's company story.

Offer structured freedom.

If you want your employees to come up with good ideas they need to know their voices will be heard, they can make a difference and they won't be shot down. At the same time, boundaries help, too. In the case of Moxie USA, Deering says they include making sure employees:

  • Are true to the consumer and deliver on brand
  • Drive off a key insight and ensure it ladders back up to an overarching strategy
  • Keep timing in mind, since it's usually a factor given the speed of the consumer
  • Make sure they know what they are solving for or what they expect the consumer to do
  • Are accountable to a reaction and know what they are measuring

"Boundaries... keep them within a space that they feel more comfortable," she says.

Hire people who have a persevering, entrepreneurial spirit.

The most rewarding things in life are not easy. In fact, think of the most rewarding experiences of your life and they're likely the ones that were emotionally or physically challenging. "But the output becomes so incredibly rewarding because of the fact that it was hard," she says. "When you're in the hiring process you've got to look for those people that really have that spirit."

Banish bureaucracy and form small nimble teams.

After seeing too many layers of bureaucracy hinder progress for some of her teams serving a big brand client, Deering decided to structure her teams as smaller units. After the pivot, a squad named Unit 3C proved it was agile enough to provide solid thinking in real time. For example, during a recent "Cow Appreciation Day" at Chick-fil-A stores, Unit 3C was able to generate rapid-fire creative for social media by tapping into what was actually going on in stores. Essentially, the team created a pop-up which allowed in-the-moment dialog with restaurant patrons about their love for Chick-Fil-A and cows by re-tweeting their quotes in a creative, illustrate manner.

The problem many companies have, Deering says, is using an old-school process of creative development that just doesn't work anymore in light of consumers who never turn off.

"We expect that we can cram the same approach into an extremely condensed timeframe and many times approach it like it's an assembly line," she says. "It can't be that way anymore. We have too many resources and partners that we can tap into in order to get to the right place and unlock thinking that wouldn't happen on the assembly line."