Here’s what I’ve seen to work well:
Enabling autonomy and a strong sense of purpose
Autonomy and a strong sense of purpose are the foundations for enabling creative thinking in a company. If everyone understands what they are working toward and feels empowered to take initiative, people can apply their various backgrounds to solving problems by thinking divergently.
Sainsbury’s is an example of how one employee’s initiative had a positive impact on the overall perception of the company, its values and commitment to customers. Employee Chris King responded to a letter sent to the company by a three-year-old girl.
Lily Robinson wrote: ‘Why is tiger bread called tiger bread? It should be called giraffe bread. Love from Lily Robinson age 3 ½.’
King agreed: ‘I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it?’ He included a gift card and signed his letter ‘Chris King (age 27 & 1/3).’
The letters went viral on social media after Lily’s mother shared them on her blog, which led to Sainsbury renaming its bread Giraffe Bread. More than just an endearing story, it illustrates how employee autonomy and an aligned sense of purpose can help drive company identity and build a loyal customer base.
As the saying goes, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ All great things entail an element of risk, and company cultures need to reward risk-taking. The best way to do this is to set measurable goals outside individual comfort zones and to have honest communication about mistakes.
Celebrating ‘hero teams’ can be one way of signalling this. Hero teams have achieved results that fall below expectations but have worked harder than other teams, so they’re recognised and rewarded for this. As long as we appreciate hard work and progress towards reaching goals, teams can feel confident about taking risks while problem solving.
Forge authentic relationships
Remember when we dared to dream big as children? We felt the world was at our feet, but as we grew up, we learned to be afraid. We need to counteract this mentality in our businesses and get back to shooting for the stars. Initiating this requires vulnerability from the leadership. I’ve had a great experience hosting ‘dream dinners,’ where I go for one-on-one dinners with a colleague just to discuss our future goals and ambitions.
Forging authentic relationships can be the driving force of a successful business – just look at Pret A Manger. Head office staff are actively encouraged to involve themselves in projects which move them away from their day jobs to work amongst colleagues they would otherwise not engage with on a daily basis.
Given its entrepreneurial roots, Pret embraces change and new ideas. In fact, many of the design ideas, shop formats, and food offerings are driven by individuals within the company that spotted an opportunity to do things differently. By integrating the head office, management and workers in an authentic way, Pret is able to innovate organically as a conclusive unit, inspiring everyone to get involved at every level and identify improvements.
Work in small teams
Removing dependencies unleashes creativity. Forming teams with a maximum of seven people and rotating every six months keeps idea-generation at the forefront and builds strong relationships. It might seem that rotating teams this frequently is inefficient because each team would have to go through an adjustment period; however, forcing people to be uprooted and allowing each problem to be re-examined with a new set of eyes helps to keep perspectives fresh. Small yet dynamic teams are a critical component for any business that is built on creative thinking.
This approach needn’t be limited to the physical office space – small teams can work together even while based in different corners of the world. Skype pioneered a new way of having teams collaborate, and there is now a myriad of platforms that enable people to share ideas.
Overall, the rapid rise and fall of companies will continue, and creative thinking will only become more of an asset to small businesses. Having a strong sense of purpose, empowering autonomy, taking risks, emphasising authentic relationships and working in small teams will keep us competitive as the idea economy continues to shift in ways we can’t predict.
Peter Arvai is the CEO and co-founder of Prezi.
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