Spark Team Creativity by Embracing Uncertainty

Focusing on getting the creative process just right can hamper your team’s innovation.

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As an artist who also works for a business school, I often talk with managers about how to inspire more creativity from their teams. It’s not that these managers don’t appreciate their left-brained, analytically oriented employees. On the contrary: They value their logic and practicality. Still, they lament, something is missing. Managers today seek inspired ideas, inventive solutions, ingenuity, originality, and new pathways to innovation. But their teams are not delivering.

The problem is not that professionals lack creative impulses but that they are too focused on getting the creative process right. For example, in supporting organizations that are implementing agile methodologies, I work with many teams so consumed by getting their chapters aligned or doing their sprints correctly that they miss the opportunities that spark imagination. They avoid the unknown — the uncertainty that breeds creativity.

So how can you help your team develop the skills to embrace uncertainty and unlock creativity? Start by setting conditions that foster a creative culture:

Understand your motivation. There’s a saying in the art world that’s attributed to Picasso: “Every painting should start with an idea, but it shouldn’t be a very good one.” Whether or not the master really said it, the point remains. In the beginning, you ought to have some vision of what you want to do, but a plan that’s too fully formed or too blindly followed leaves little room for innovation. Ask yourself (and your team) what the organization is trying to do. What’s our purpose? What problem are we seeking to solve — and why? Understanding your motivation will help direct you toward your goal. Remember, it’s not about going from A to B. It’s about going from A toward B and knowing why.

Test your motivation by encouraging conflict. Creative tension is essential to making great art. It’s also essential to executing great business strategies. If there’s no tension, you need to invite it. Identify the fieriest member of your team and encourage that person to challenge you. Offer some bait. Ask, what are we missing? Are we moving in the right direction? What if we did this differently? You’re not inviting nitpicking but asking for honest opposition.

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