The top five qualities of innovative companies, via HBR

Companies that know how to innovate have something in common — they make it a priority. The companies listed in Hay Group’s seventh annual Best Companies for Leadership (BCL) ranking recognize the value of  innovation and put it at the heart of their corporate culture.

How do they do they do it? Well, you may recognize some of these best practices. The theme remains one of openness, flexibility, agility, and growth via learning:

1. Create a safe space for innovation

  • Idea – allow calculated risks
  • Example – build a lab environment into part of the culture

2. Enable organizational agility.

  • Idea – allow job definitions to be more flexible and fluid — if you want an organization to be adaptable, and flexible,  and changing to the needs of the marketplace, take a look at the job structure.
  • Give employees room to grow and explore their range of interests within a company, for example, Google is great at this.
  • Example – build empathy across organization, independent thinking and problem solving by allowing others to join a new department for a month/quarter, etc.

3. Broaden perspectives. 

  • Idea – new ideas can come from anywhere – an innovative company knows this and is an expert at “staying open”.
  • Example – Solicit feedback on ideas from the community and company as a whole.

4. Promote and reward collaboration.

  • Idea – the majority of innovations are born from collaborative efforts.
  • Create an environment that encourages collaboration
  • Ideas can be those of the individual, and “yes, anded” by the group as a whole.  Reward dependence, not just independence.

5. Celebrate success and learn from setbacks.

  • Idea – fail forward
  • Innovative companies see problems and failures as learning experiences. By reacting this way, companies encourage risk taking and keep the innovation engine running. An employee who feels they can never mess up, will never try to be anything other than average.
  • Encourage “what if’s” and “why not’s”


Why Creative Ideas Get Rejected – via David Burkus

If you feel like getting your creative ideas approved and accepted is a battle, new research suggests it may not be your fault.

Creative work that’s novel and different often goes head-to-head with our desire for certainty and structure. When that certainty is well…uncertain, our natural, inherent creativity bias can rear its ugly head.

We want creativity without the risk. Can we have our cake and eat it too when it comes to creativity and innovation?

To help our brains accept new ideas, this research and wonderful writing from Management Professor David Burkus gets us thinking about how we sell our ideas:

“We now know that regardless of how open-minded people are, or claim to be, they experience a subtle bias against creative ideas when faced with uncertain situations. This isn’t merely a preference for the familiar or a desire to maintain the status quo. Most of us sincerely claim that we want the positive changes creativity provides. What the bias affects is our ability to recognize the creative ideas that we claim we desire. Thus, when you’re pitching your creative idea, it may not be the idea itself that is being rejected. The more likely culprit could be the uncertainty your audience is feeling, which in turn is overriding their ability to recognize the idea as truly novel and useful.”

Regardless of how open-minded people are, they experience a subtle bias against creative ideas when faced with uncertain situations.”

To me, this research shares similarities with the work of David Rock and his S.C.A.R.F model of rewards and threats. When our certainty, the “C” in scarf'” is threatened we close down.

To break through, Burkus and Rock remind us to speak the language of those we are trying to persuade, make them look good by using empathy, listening, and perhaps most of all, patience.

What makes people more creative on some days and not others…

The million, okay, billion-dollar question: How do you create a culture of creativity, and make it last?

Harvard University Professor Teresa Amabile wanted to find out.

Discussing her research into the topic with Bloomberg Television, Amabile and her team compiled over 12,000 individual daily diaries over 5 months, from professionals who were working on creative projects within their company.

What she found, “People do their most creative work on days when they’re feeling most positive emotions, most pleasant thoughts about their organization and their co-workers and strongest intrinsic motivation in their work”.

To put it simply: inner-work life drives performance, and allows teams and individuals to come up with better, creative ideas.

Every area in business requires coming up with creative solutions – and to foster that kind of creative thinking takes more than waving a magic wand:

  1. create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration
  2. tap into those favorite intrinsic motivators of autonomy, purpose, and mastery
  3. Remember that “small wins”, making progress on meaningful work (Amabile’s Progress Principle) matters.

For more:


The genius of the “and”…


“Collaborative innovation involves the genius of the “and” versus the tyranny of the “or.” It’s not that brainstorming must always turn into “Groupthink” or that introverts or individuals have the best ideas. In good brainstorming, one feeds off the other and the end result is significantly more powerful than either approach alone.” – Harvard Business Review 

The need, space, and time for “Passionate Champions” to “and” an idea is the often missing step in the brainstorming process, says this latest article from HBR. 

Step One: Collaborate on ideas as a group. Make sure everyone is heard, help individuals improve their own thinking and be exposed to ideas they may not have thought of on their own.

Step Two: Open up the session to passionate, individual champions:

“Anyone, alone or with other people if they need or want help, can pick any idea and develop it further. Even if the idea has already been developed in one direction, a Passionate Champion may see it very differently and develop it in a totally different manner. Or, they can pick an idea that was not advocated by the group or selected by the client, and develop it as they see fit.

In our work, we find that Passionate Champion ideas often account for 50% of those that make it through internal and external vetting, and 20-30% of the ideas that make it into final concepts. What’s more, they are often the most breakthrough in terms of truly new, game-changing concepts.”

Create the safe environment for ideas to flow, allow those who want to “yes, and” an idea to do so. Who can say yes to an idea in your organization? 

Break it down – A lesson in creative insight

To spark creative insight, you don’t necessarily need to start from scratch.

Staring at that blank sheet of paper for hours on end probably isn’t doing you any favors.

We find inspiration from increasing the number of associations in our brain, and according to new research , also breaking apart our items of inspiration to just their component parts.

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about this technique for busting through rigid thinking, also known as “functional fixedness”.

To overcome your functional fixedness, says researcher Tony McCaffrey:

1. Break down the item at hand into basic parts

2. Name each part in a way that does not imply meaning.

Strip away the fixed associations that are holding you back.

In his research, subjects he trained on this technique solved 67 percent more problems requiring creative insight than subjects who did not learn the technique, according to his study published in March in Psychological Science.

Give this trick to engineer friends, and those who enjoy and crave tactile problem-solving and learning.

His research is a nice reminder to remove the limitations we put on everyday objects, and maybe even… people? Is our description or label of something or someone keeping us from creative insight and innovation and a better way of working?

To me, this technique applies to more than just design thinking. Finding your creative solution starts with building your platform. What do you already have to work with. How can you “yes, and”, or amplify these pieces to find your creative solution?

A new way to think of change

In an Improv scene, a movie, a story, or a great presentation we find resolution by completing this sentence,

 “and ever since that day”…

What changed?

This change is brought about by what we call a tilt. Something a character says, does, expresses, and admits to, etc in a scene.

It is our goal in an Improv scene to be open to change and to actively seek it. This change then answers the question, “what was different about this day”.

As innovators, creative problem-solvers, leadership coaches, managers, trainers, and facilitators we push positive change.

“And ever since that day”….

The tilt, the catalyst for change, comes from being hyper-aware to what offers and ideas have already been expressed. What is around us that we can use? What are our characters feeling, expressing, and wanting and what honest reactions and desires can we pull from to help our characters organically grow and evolve?

We can think of it this way:

Once there was…
And every day…
Until one day…
And because of that…
And because of that…
And because of that…
Until finally…
And ever since that day…

Improvisers want to be changed. The static scene and character that stays the same from beginning to end is not our friend.

To embrace change is to ask… “and ever since that day”… and to see the world of possibilities that appear when we making even one small tilt pushes us in a direction we couldn’t have predicted.

How to rev up the creativity engine at your workplace

Here’s what we know…. To rev up your creative engine:

  1. Expose your mind to a broad range of stimuli – expand your creative awareness by ingesting more remote associations in your brain. To think differently, your inspiration needs to come from different places. The more associations, and the wider the variety – the more possibilities!
  2. Don’t worry be happy – the more relaxed (and in a good mood) you are, the more likely you are to find insightful solutions to a problem.
  3. Create more opportunities for insight – direct your psychological experience inward

Inward attention + context of fresh ideas + relaxation ….  tell me more! But if it seems like these efforts cost too much money (or time) consider your competition. “Creativity in the workplace isn’t a “nice to have”—it’s what keeps companies in business”, says Fast Company magazine.

I couldn’t agree more.

Tickle the senses. Break up the routine. Encourage interaction, sharing. New experiences. Time for relaxation. A creativity room? Chalk board walls? More spontaneity.

Can you create a stimulating, and relaxing work environment that also promotes empathy across departments?

The first step towards promoting creativity at work is to make a conscious decision to devote effort and energy to it. I’d argue the only failure comes in sticking with the same old.

What’s the drill – July 17: Put this brainstorming trick into action

Did you know, IBM’s 2010 Global CEO Study cited “creativity” as the most important leadership quality for the future.

Bolster your toolkit to include strategies for creative problem solving… like this one:

A two-minute brainstorming session… it might just be the efficient tool you’ve been looking for and a go-to trick when you’re stuck in a creative rut.

Here are the rules:

1. Two minutes

2. No judgement of ideas

3. Write down everything

4. Quantity over quality

Then, take a look at your results.

Pick 3 of your ideas (trust your instincts on this one) to do another 2 minute brainstorming session, extrapolating on each idea.

Dig deeper into your creative well by asking yourself questions like — what would happen if the opposite were true? What would this idea look like a year from now? How would our competition execute this idea?

Start with the phrase… “What if” and see where it takes you. By role-playing scenarios and ideas without any fear of judgement (and just a little bit of time and energy) you’re pumping up your creative muscle by asking the  curious questions that promote self-reflection, resilience, flexibility, empathy, and sometimes… more questions.