Encouraging and Managing Idea Creation

This is a research paper I wrote in 2010 for my Managing Creativity in the Organization PhD class – Robert Braathe

As CEO of my company, I’d encourage freedom of expression, creative thinking, and innovation in order to generate significant idea creation. Harvard Business Press (2003) indicates that businesses that flow along an S-Curve when it comes to growth and implementations of ideas. Inspirational motivation combined with intrinsic motivation can be the recipe for motivating creative people to innovate and generate new ideas. (Sosi, Kahai & Avolio, 1998) Companies can face stumbling blocks along the way, but building milestones along the way can offset these issues (Baumgartner, 2010) Creating a culture and workspace that is conducive to learning is also key to running an organization that will innovate and generate ideas. (Harris, 2008) To keep creativity flowing and encouraging groups to collaborate, an organization needs to promote an environment where neutral minds can collaborate freely and exchange ideas openly. (Govendo, 2001)

The S Curve

As innovation occurs, the life cycle of products or ideas takes on different stages of success. Harvard Business Review (2003) indicates that companies must have enough flexibility built in to realize not every idea may be as successful as the next, nor will any product have a similar S-curve of development. As companies introduce new products, or take on new ideas for existing products, they may become competitive with their rivals and hence generate profit from ideas. As companies focus more and more on generating new ideas, they can avoid obsolescence, as often “leaders in one generation of technology are seldom leaders in the next.” (Harvard Business Review, 2003)

Motivating Employees and Cross-Pollination
To ensure that companies and their ideas do not become obsolete, creating a motivational environment that is both leadership driven and intrinsic in nature can be critical to success. Recognition (individual and team), creative control over work, celebration of successes, and rejuvenation through time off or away can all be used as rewards that may motivate employees (Harvard Business Review, 2003). However, intrinsic motivation can be even more effective in having an impact on just how creative teams can be. (Sosi, Kahai & Avolio, 1998)

Leadership can have a tremendous impact on how employees are motivated by participating in a concept known as inspirational motivation. Sosi, Kahai & Avolio (1998) look at a number of factors that contribute to effective inspirational leadership. When leaders express confidence in their people’s ability to achieve objectives and help the entire team feel like their views were expressed clearly, an environment is fostered for creativity. Likewise, when a leader creates stimulation by encouraging revisiting ideas, more creativity results. (Sosi, Kahai & Avolio, 1998)

Stumbling Blocks and Building Blocks

Despite effective leadership and encouragement, stumbling blocks may get in the way of optimum conditions for creativity. These blocks can include resource myopia, fear of failure, and giving up too soon (Harvard Business Press). When employees or management are too near-sighted in their visioning, the bigger picture may be ignored. Similarly, when the culture around them encourages a fear of failure, people may not be as creative. If employees give up on good ideas in their infancy, they may miss out on opportunities to experience greater achievements.

Baumgartner (2010) suggest that a creative idea implementation plan must be considered in order for true creativity to be built and not destroyed. Having the foresight to see stumbling blocks before they become stumbling blocks can be one step in an effective creative idea implementation plan. When opportunities for failure are prepared for ahead of time, they no longer need to be seen as stumbling blocks.
Getting the right people on board in the idea generation process is also important. If you get buy-in from key players in the organization, there is more of a likelihood of managers going along for the ride. (Baumgartner, 2010) Likewise, a 5-pronged approach to idea generation may be effective if practiced – focus, suspended judgment, personal safety, serial discussion, and building on ideas. (Harvard Business Press, 2003) These building blocks to creativity, when in unison, can create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing ideas.

Enriching Physical Workspace and Nurturing Culture for Creativity
Creating a physical environment where workspace is comfortable and people feel productive is critical to success in nurturing creativity. (Harris, 2008) Sometimes, the most effective workspaces are those that are designed simultaneously with the work to be done. (Harvard Business Press, 2003) In studies, the ​effectiveness of work and the design of the workspace are correlated. (Harvard Business Press, 2003)
As for a nurturing culture, Harvard Business Press (2003) stated:
“in the absence of a supportive culture, creativity and innovation are like seedlings planted in arid, rocky, soil. They simply won’t germinate and grow.”
Developing an environment where creativity is molded and nurtured can create efficiencies as well as new opportunities for idea generation. (Harris, 2008) A step-by-step action plan for idea generation can also turn creative ideas into innovations. (Baumgartner, 2010)

Methods for Idea Generation and Enhancing Creativity
Visioning, modifying, and experimenting can be utilized as methods for brainstorming, and using multiple methods for idea generation can be effective in encouraging employees to participate in it. (Harvard Business Press, 2003). Designing award systems can create a climate of innovation. Simply hiring the right people can encourage cross-pollination of ideas, provided that there is support from management (Harvard Business Press, 2003)

Milestones along the way for idea generation can help enhance creativity (Baumgartner, 2010). When companies take Apple’s lead and make creativity and efficiency one and the same, the entire company benefits. (Harris, 2008) Balancing the creative process with the idea and brainstorming process combined can have a lasting effect on any organization. (Harvard Business Press, 2003)

Encouraging Creative Groups
An organization that can work internally to be creative while keeping itself in check can undergo a cultural transformation that leads to greater creativity. (Harris, 2008) When employees feel confident that they are working with a cross-functional team that has its best interests in mind, it can boost efforts to be creative. Exploring the paradoxes of creative groups can help organizations be better at structuring teams (Harvard Business Press, 2009). When teams balance experienced and novice, freedom and discipline, play and professionalism and improvisation and planning, they can help identify the right composition for continued growth of ideas. (Harvard Business Press, 2003)

Application as CEO
As a CEO of a web-based consulting company, I would create an environment where people feel productive wherever they are working. I have found that my independent contractors work best when they are given a loose set of guidelines and are simply given the final product that I am looking for. I allow my supporters to work out their own time schedule as long as they provide me the work in a time that works out best for the customers.

As for inspirational motivation combined with internal motivation, I am a believer that a leader must do what they do not want to do; I don’t necessarily delegate work that is beneath me; rather, I give my supporters work that interests them while freeing me up to do things that are more at the C-level than at the independent contractor level. I manage my own calendar and email, but delegate creative tasks like copywriting and web design to those who have more time and resources than I. This process alone I feel inspires others to do greater work. As for internal motivation, I find that employees work best when they feel themselves that they are doing the work for its intrinsic value and not for some external motivation.

I recently hired a contractor to work an unspecified number of hours a week to work for me. After identifying what she was making at her current part-time role, I gave her a figure that would match her pay but give her the freedom to make her own schedule, which was clearly an internal motivator for her.

As stumbling blocks come along the way, I seek to utilize communication tools that will help enhance rather than hurt communication. I provide employees with a direct line of communication with limited limits. Employees can contact me at any time any day but Sunday, giving them the ability to reach me for any issue that comes up. I don’t demand check-ins from employees on a regular basis as I feel as long as they are meeting deadlines the ends are greater than the means.

Lastly, the continue to encourage creativity and idea generation, I allow employees to work from home or wherever they feel comfortable, and meet with them via phone or video chat. If they prefer, I make the time to visit them at their place of business virtually or onsite where applicable. Although there may be added cost on my part, the time I do put in for these on-site visits is much more valuable.

Creativity is enhanced when employees feel that they are valued and respected. When leaders at all levels are willing to make the effort to provide employees with the resources to grow, idea generation becomes part of the culture. Setting up an environment in which employees feel welcome through physical space and team composition clearly impacts how the company creates ideas and how effectively they are implemented.

Baumgartner, J. (2010). The Creative idea implementation plan. Retrieved from

Govendo, J. (2001). Six steps for encouraging employee creativity. Retrieved from

Harris, L. (2008). Facing idea engineering roadblocks. Retrieved from

Harvard Business Review Staff (2003). Managing Creativity and Innovation. Boston, MA:
Harvard Business PressPerseus Books Group

Sosik, J., Kahai, S & Avolio, B (1998) Transformational leadership and dimensions of
creativity: motivating idea generation in computer-mediated groups, Creativity
Research Journal, 11: 2, 111 — 121


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