In my last post, I raised questions that every manager who wishes to foster innovation should ask. Are we preparing our employees to climb the mountain of innovation? Do we provide them with the right training for this long journey?
The era in which we are living is one of radical change and intense competition. We all know that creativity is more important than ever. We want to be innovative and creative; we search for innovative and creative people. Yet, it seems that most of the buzz around it is more lip service than real commitment. We talk a good game. It’s hard to find a company today whose management isn’t willing to talk about creativity and its immense importance – but that’s often the end of it.
After writing the last post, I got some responses asking for a potential solution for these questions. In order to tackle these questions, I believe that we need to make a personal choice and commit to doing it. How?
My answer: Developing an artistic mindset. Embracing it, cultivating it, nurturing it, and encouraging it.
What does an “artistic mindset” mean, you wonder?
Before I answer that, consider this short disclaimer. What I suggest here is not to leave the business way of thinking, but rather to balance it with a different, more creative way of thinking: a way of thinking that comes from the arts.
Developing an artistic mindset does not necessarily mean leaving your job to study painting or photography (You will be surprised how often we get this comment/question). All I offer is that you should embrace the way artists approach challenges.
At the core of the artistic mindset is the ability to observe, question, ideate (or imagine) and communicate. We can add, of course, more aspects of the artistic mindset, such as association, flexibility, curiosity, storytelling abilities and the ability to create experiences. In this post, I focus on skills relevant to the innovation process.
The first essential skill of an innovator is her ability to observe. Organizations ask for it; research studies support it. While we are asked to observe our customers’ environment and how they behave with our products so we can come up with new insights, we hardly get trained for this essential skill. Observing is a skill. A skill that the artist develops and hones. Since art is a visual language, the artist listens with her eyes; she takes the time to observe, record what she sees, understand it and make connections.
After the artist observes the world, she frequently questions what she observed. While in the business community we are often trained to execute (“That’s the strategy, do it, don’t ask questions”), artists are more commonly encouraged to question everything.
Artists have the power to question simple, obvious issues and to surface ambiguity, gray areas, and propose different interpretations.
We can’t separate critical thinking from creative thinking, because questioning what is out there can help us imagine what might be.
They are trained and mentored to develop critical thinking. We can’t separate critical thinking from creative thinking because questioning what is out there can help us imagine what might be.
After the artist has observed and questioned her observations, she will come up with new ideas. Artists are trained to come up with new ideas, time and time again. However, in the business world, we don’t practice ideation. Most of us get to practice ideation in the yearly company’s retreat or at the start of a new project during ideation workshop. Yet, ideation requires practice, and a lot of it – you don’t wait for the company to take you to a gym if you want to stay fit. Act similarly if you want to become innovative – practice ideation. Read about it more.
Another skill we can adopt is communication and experience. Art crosses genders, geographies, culture, and time to stimulate feelings. Artists, with or without intention, are capable of communicating with us in a non-verbal language. This communication also translates to the experience we have with the art.
In the business environment, we are obsessed with “customer and user experience.” Experience is not only how your product works or feels; it’s larger than that. To create an experience, a meaningful one, we need to understand what motivate human beings, what inspires them, what get them excited – and artists hold the key to this discovery.
We started this post with the personal commitment to become more creative. As managers, we should understand: it comes down to starting with ourselves, leading our people by giving examples, leading by helping others develop the right skills. So, ask yourself, are you committed to the journey of innovation? Are you providing your employees with training and activities that help them develop observation, questioning, ideation and communication skills? Do they have the ability to practice and implement it?