19 Mar


“Almost all leaders agreed that they underutilized the creativity of their employees”


In this article Prof. dr. Jeff Gaspersz explores how to build innovative companies.


Jeff GasperszProf. dr. Jeff Gaspersz is Professor of Innovation at Nyenrode Business University, and a speaker and author in the field of innovation management and business creativity. See his website:

In all the years I have been discussing innovation and creativity with managers and entrepreneurs in master classes, seminars and roundtable sessions, one observation keeps returning: almost all leaders agreed that they underutilized the creativity of their employees.

They admitted that they could capture so many more fertile ideas in their company. The major reasons they gave for failing to do so were a lack of time and the absence of an effective process to manage all those ideas. Furthermore, they feared demotivating their employees when ideas were rejected and, in addition to that, a core question arose: Is encouraging ideas really a core management task? Current existing business challenges demand enough attention as it is. So there is creative gold in companies, but these leaders don’t dig enough for it, despite the often deeply-felt need to innovate or to find creative solutions for urgent problems.

Stimulating creativity as a core task in leadership

It is my contention that stimulating and nurturing organizational creativity will increasingly become a key task in leadership. With fast changing market challenges, demanding customers and smarter competitors, we need more than ever, all of our imagination to find new ways to innovate and rise to new challenges. Being more creative is our only way to become resilient in times of change and crisis and will secure our sustainable success, therefore stimulating and harvesting creativity will become a strategic priority.

This is confirmed by the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study among 1500 CEOs in 60 countries in which creativity was selected by the CEOs as the most crucial factor for the success of their companies. As a leadership quality, creativity scored even higher than integrity and global thinking. But not only the leaders had to be creative: the interviewed CEOs felt that they faced the challenge of spreading a creative spirit throughout their entire organizations.

Here, we are touching on the essence of leadership needed for building a creative organization. Its aim is to persuade each employee to engage in the quest for new solutions and improvements. It is about communicating in such a way that energizes people, giving them ownership over any given problem and inviting them to search for new ideas and bring them forward.

Employees as co-creators in innovation

The ultimate goal of innovation leadership is not to create followers waiting for instructions, but to awaken self-leadership in people and allow them freedom to work on their ideas, share their thoughts and take initiative to meet their targets; thus bringing improvement and innovation within the reach of each individual employee.

It is therefore especially important to avoid excluding a single employee from the process of creative thinking about solutions. Everyone should be invited to be a co-creator in innovating because one can never predict which employee will coin a brilliant idea. The more people we exclude from the search for new opportunities, the weaker our corporate innovative power will be. There is a growing awareness of this in leadership philosophy, now that innovation has become a necessity. In a survey among innovation leaders in 54 South-African companies it was found that one of the greatest enablers of innovation was considered to be the empowerment of staff to support innovation by recognizing opportunities.

For this purpose, small initiatives can have a positive knock-on effect in shaping the culture where new opportunities are discovered on a permanent basis. In a government organization I worked with, employees were very enthusiastic about a simple program for knowledge sharing, launched by top management: the week of the exchange. For one week in the year employees arrange an internship in the team of another department. The results were a better understanding of each other’s work, a cross-fertilization of insights and a stream of new ideas.

Another small initiative with a profound effect on the opportunity mindset is setting up a periodical in-company event where employees are invited to listen to a variety of speakers, such as innovators, entrepreneurs, authors and artists. In participating in such events, I have seen the same effect occur as when we watch the famous TED Talks where speakers, covering a wide range of topics, are given 18 minutes to present their ideas. When we listen to the diversity of their ideas, opinions and research findings our minds open up, we become inspired and we find connections between what is shared and our own challenges. More than 500 million people have already viewed the TED Talks, so it fulfills a deep need. How easy it is to organize TED-like events in your own company by inviting inspiring people from within your own network? It will not only bring new views, but will also show your employees, and invited customers, how important it is for your company to shape a culture of inspiration and innovation.




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Posted by on March 19, 2013 in Articles


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