Those of us who have worked in organizations know very well what it means to have to “do more with less.” But financial constraints don’t rule out creativity. In fact, creativity is precisely what’s needed when resources are scarce. Here are a few suggestions for how to cultivate creativity in your organization:

  Put some skin in the game. Creative organizations don’t sprout up overnight, but they don’t happen by accident either. If you want to lead a creative organization, you have to expect it. Plan for it. Commit yourself to its existence. Tell everyone you know, including your colleagues and employees, that creativity is now among your highest priorities—and don’t waver.

  Reward creativity. You can incent creativity even if you don’t have the funding or latitude to change pay levels or job classifications. For example:

  • Share the time. If the solution will save staff time, consider acknowledging the contribution with a small amount of “free” vacation, and then provide a venue for your creative staff to tell others their story.
  • Share the savings. If it will save money, apply part of the savings to an “innovation fund” that departments and teams can access to fund future projects.
  • Spread good ideas. If it can be spread throughout other areas of the organization, appoint some or all of the project team members to be leaders for new implementation teams.
  • Train future leaders. If newly appointed team leaders need it, give them training. This can build self-confidence, deepen loyalty to the organization, and provide stepping stones for future advancement. It can also create a pool of “resource” employees who can coach future innovation efforts.
  • Recognize creative contributions. Individual performance evaluations should highlight creative contributions, and each managers’ performance evaluation should include mention of how well they stimulate and support the creativity of those they supervise.

  Reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it makes sense to start from scratch if you want to improve upon a very familiar process or product. Brainstorming, piloting, rapid prototyping, “hacking”, or other experimentation strategies can produce surprisingly effective results in a short period of time—often at a lower cost.

  Mix it up. Few dispute the wisdom of having members of an organization learn about unfamiliar areas of operation. For Andrew Hargadon, a professor of technology management at the University of California, Davis, the advantage to interdisciplinary exposure isn’t thinking outside the box—it is the ability to “think in other boxes.

  Hire creativity. When you have a chance to hire, look for employees who are self-motivated, effective networkers, good listeners, and good team players (meaning they are happy to help other succeed as well as to showcase their own successes.) The most creative problem solvers are able to suspend judgment on what “should” be done in order to make room for creative approaches and solutions.

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