The relevance of fostering innovation in a small nation. Regaining the tempo of our Mediterranean way of life can rekindle the entrepreneurial spark.
Creative thinking is a vital resource that can generate excitement, fun, greater ease, change lives, and where the sky’s the limit. How do you sow the seeds for a culture of creativity and innovation? Is it possible to move from a nation of commercial copycats to enterprising entrepreneurs in one generation?
It would appear that we tend to be a nation of followers, rather than creatives. If you want to open a small shop, you can jump on the bandwagon and sell cellular phones, DVDs, ethnic goods or any item for Lm1. There is nothing wrong with spotting a trend and riding the wave, but where are the individuals who are setting their sights on the next crest? Even the force of the franchises has spurned copycat goods. Instead of looking at the concepts and evaluating what works, we simply try to copy the idea. So if you want something quick to eat, it’s still a burger, pastizzi, kebab, hot dog or pizza, as though there are no other foods under the sun that could be cooked on the spot.
Accepting employees’ ideas
Companies miss out on numerous ways to improve their services and products, simply by not creating a means for their employees or even the public to communicate their ideas. While standing in a queue, don’t you often come up with ideas of how more efficient the service provider could become? Wouldn’t you pass on your ideas if you knew they would be welcome?
Very often, employees come up with new ideas that could save time or create new products, and these are lost in the midst of negativity, bureaucracy, or simply by their not being a serious system in place that evaluates new ideas. Feedback is vital information that should never be frowned upon, or be feared.
To truly profit from employees, companies must create a climate conducive to creative criticism. In order to flourish, a firm’s culture must encourage and nurture ideas rather than kill them. If an employee has a great idea and has it quickly squashed and mocked by their superiors they tend to stop sharing their thoughts in fear of more rejection and humiliation.
The five minute rule
Several firms in Silicon Valley have installed a “five minute rule”. The rule permits anyone to suggest an idea. Then for the first five minutes after the idea is expressed only positive comments can be made. By the time the idea is talked about for five minutes it has usually spun into an impromptu brainstorm session that cultivates truly great ideas and some form of the discussion is often implemented.
Take classified adverts in newspapers as one example: instead of making clients write out their advert on a form, and then get a secretary to type it in later, why not provide a computer and allow it to be typed in directly? Now, if the employees behind the desk were more motivated, perhaps they would have come up with this suggestion. Maybe they already have. But what if their superiors don’t listen, or if there is a culture of stagnation and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Then they won’t even bother to have any ideas at all.
Where is the creativity in advertising? What’s happened to the hundreds of students with Communications Studies degrees? Ideas are not born in a culture of criticism and of factory-like scenarios. There needs to be an ethos of respect for thinking, for individuality, for brainstorming time, and for design. Scientists agree that slowness boosts creativity and problem solving. Creativity emerges when you have the time and the silent environment in which to not only think, but just ‘sit’. It is a well-known fact that Einstein used to go sailing every afternoon, and that he believed that daydreaming was more important than education. If companies can encourage brainstorming time, and follow up on employees’ suggestions, a wealth of ideas can be obtained. They can save money and increase efficiency in the long term.
In courses that promote creativity, one exercise that is often used is a week of “media deprivation”. By not exposing oneself to the radio, books, TV, computers or music, it is seen that the individual’s creative buttons are switched on. It is that silence that allows you to come up with ideas. As long as you are bombarded by fantastic images, stories and even the news, it is unlikely that you can allow your own brain to get thinking. We are a nation that loves to discuss and listen to debates on television. It is time to start thinking for ourselves and being proactive.
Dangling the carrot?
One so-called benefit of a country going through a tough and fast-changing economic climate is that it causes people to be creative. Businesses will realise that if they are going to survive, they have to stand out from the rest. Perhaps we’re just not hungry enough to dream up new ways of earning a living, or of creating something useful and beautiful. Years of letting parents help with homework and projects has not encouraged students to think for themselves. Stipends and ready-made summer jobs are stifling self-determination. One way in which creativity can be fostered is by creating awards. More awards and contests please, for – and within – businesses, schools, and local councils.
Permission to be creative, sir
The whole world has heard of Malta-born Professor Edward de Bono. He originated the concept of lateral thinking, which provides a new way of thinking as a skill. Yet how many schools in Malta have taken on his Thinking Course? How many organisations taken on board his concepts? The Masters in Innovation and Creativity based on his precepts is opening at the University this year, and it will be interesting to see what emerges as a result. Hopefully the students will be tracked, to follow their progress once obtaining this qualification.
Creativity takes courage, and often the courage to break rules and ruffle feathers. In general, organisations are slow to initiate change. Let’s not spend our time thinking what shouldn’t be done, or what seems impossible, but instead welcome the new.
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