Five Ways to Ignite Creativity to Build a Successful & Sustainable Business
Within the increasingly competitive insurance landscape, everyone is looking for a secret ingredient to give them an edge on their competition. What if you learned that optimizing just one simple process could supercharge your productivity, improve your employees’ workplace experience, and drive new business into next year’s sales goals?
You may be surprised to learn that research shows this elusive element is not a high-tech gadget or networking strategy. Instead, it’s an inherent trait that every human being possesses from birth; that is, the ability to think creatively. Creativity — the uniquely valuable skill traditionally reserved for describing the work of musicians, artists or poets — is defined as the ability to transcend conventional thought patterns to generate new ideas, alternatives, or solutions that have the potential to contribute economic, institutional, or social value.
Creative thinking and problem-solving through innovation have been the motivating force driving forward progress throughout the history of American economic development — from farming modernization during the Third Agricultural Revolution to the technological advancements of the current Information Age.
What’s more, encouraging a culture of creative thinking offers tangible business benefits that would thrill even the most skeptical of managers. A 2014 study found that companies who provided creativity training saw revenue performance improve by 10% or more compared to the prior year, and yearly sales data demonstrated that creativity was directly correlated to increased market share and competitive advantage in the marketplace. In his book, “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future”, Daniel Pink proves that developing creativity requires certain soft skills one needs in order to be successful in every aspect of business, including empathy, imagination, and thoughtful understanding — and these skills add tremendous value to your services and overall competitive advantage.
Although the benefits of a creative workplace culture are undeniably appealing, one cannot simply announce, “Let’s get creative!” on Monday morning and expect employees to begin thinking and operating in a completely new way. Fortunately, there are five actionable changes you can make to facilitate creativity and innovation that will elevate your business, your employees, and your customers’ experience:
Leadership: Cultivate Creative Culture
If senior leadership expects employees to embrace creativity, he or she must lead by example and demonstrate personal devotion to the creative process at work. This means actively listening to the ideas of others, collaborating with team members who might have different perspectives, and funding creative endeavors should the need arise. Although they are considered “soft skills”, the value of invention and innovation should be clearly stated within your business objectives to make it obvious to all employees that this is a fundamental element of the culture in your organization. Freedom and support are vital prerequisites for creative thinking, and it is up to the organization’s leadership to provide this kind of encouragement and space for their employees to use their imaginations, test new theories, and potentially make mistakes. If senior leadership regularly punishes or shames individuals every time a new idea fails, employees will be less likely to take risks and resort to reliance on pre-existing operational standards, thereby missing the opportunity to reap the rewards of innovation. By contrast, leaders who seek to hire inventive minds, support and participate in group brainstorming sessions, and encourage reasonable risk-taking will inspire a culture of creativity that influences a positive trickle-down effect throughout their organization.
Implement Creativity Training
Because many consider creativity and imagination to be “soft skills”, it can be hard to get employees excited about devoting time to Creativity Training. But major corporations like General Electric, DuPont de Nemours, and Hewlett-Packard report staggering ROI results from their own in-house creativity training programs:
- According to the 2000 Hewlett-Packard Annual Report, HP spent $2 billion on developing creative thinking skills within their workforce. While the upfront cost is high, the company directly credits this training with the development of utility computing, an entirely new product category, in addition to more than 1,300 patent applications. While the upfront cost of this creativity training was relatively high, the net revenue generated by these patents totaled $42.37 billion. (Source)
- GE employees spent two years working through an in-house Creativity Training Program, which resulted in a 60% increase in the development of patentable concepts in just one year. (Source: Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance, Jay Cross)
- Creative thinking is not just limited to new concept development; it can also be applied to management of existing systems and processes like budgets. Dupont de Nemours (DuPont Chemicals) discovered that a one-hour brainstorming session following a Creativity Training course resulted in changes that saved the company more than $5 million over a ten year period. (Source: Igniting Innovation Through the Power of Creative Thinking, David Tanner).
We tend to believe that an individual’s ability to think creatively is fixed, that some people are simply born “creative types”, while others are not. But the ROI generated from these training programs provides clear evidence that individual creativity can not only be learned and improved upon — it’s also an undeniably worthwhile investment.
Prime the Workplace for Playful Creativity
More often than not, businesses focus the majority of their energy on activities that directly contribute to increased production, output, and efficiency. Because creative pursuits don’t traditionally carry the same weight, senior leadership designates them “lower priority” obligations. However, this obsessional focus on maintaining current systems leaves little room for forward progress, like new product development or penetration of new markets.
In order to facilitate an environment in which employees feel secure and supported enough to consider new innovative ideas, consider Google’s approach to workplace design:
- Every engineer spends one day per week working on any prototype or experiment they can dream up. This regularly-scheduled time devoted purely to play and imagination encourages employees to constantly think about new ideas, which has led to some of the most important engineering developments in Google’s history.
- Instead of traditional cubicles, Googler’s workspaces are intentionally arranged to connect people who wouldn’t normally work together to promote collaboration and sharing of ideas between otherwise separate teams.
- A live-feed projection of search queries being used in real time all over the world illuminates an entire wall of the lobby, which encourages lively discussion, new idea development, and reminds employees of the value of their work and its impact on the world around them.
By designing offices that stimulate the creative minds of its employees, Google is supporting the kind of conversation and collaboration that elevates employee morale and propels a business forward. Regardless of your office aesthetic, you can create this kind of progressive workplace environment through bi-weekly brainstorming sessions utilizing vision boards that display strategic goals and future plans, and incentivizing employees to contribute great ideas. Of course, the value of designated time to tap into the power of play and creative development cannot be overstated. Employee outings, mandatory “brain breaks” throughout the day, and company-wide cultural enrichment activities all go a long way in promoting the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that is necessary for innovation.
Diversity Builds Better Teams
As companies around the country are reevaluating their Diversity & Inclusion policies and implementing more diverse hiring practices, it’s important to remember that incorporating different perspectives also has a profoundly positive impact on creative problem-solving and innovation within your organization. When a colleague presents an idea that doesn’t align with your own, the conversation that results can help build genuine team camaraderie and facilitate future creative collaboration. Hiring creative thinkers with a variety of backgrounds and experiences can also draw attention to certain thought-provoking questions you may have otherwise overlooked that will help you better serve your customer.
Look for Opportunities and Unmet Needs
When railway accidents began to rise in the late 19th century, a group of creative Englishmen formed the Railway Passengers Assurance Company, which bundled the first accident insurance policies for train passengers to purchase alongside their tickets. The key to their success was rooted in an innovative detail: the company charged higher premiums for second and third class tickets, as the risk of injury or death was much higher in cars without roofs or proper seats.
All successful businesses prioritize the customer experience, and constantly consider unique ways to improve it. One of the best techniques to ignite creativity is to put yourself in your clients’ shoes, and look for opportunities to fulfill their unmet needs. Some companies encourage employees to reach out to their customers directly, and use their feedback to design new solutions that combine digital technology and interpersonal innovation.
Consider every “touch point” a client might experience along the course of your business relationship — from newsletter content to updates to their policy coverage — and adjust your processes accordingly.
When businesses prioritize creativity alongside traditional objectives like efficiency and productivity, everyone benefits: employees feel heard and valued, customers are satisfied and fulfilled, and businesses achieve or exceed their goals while developing innovative new products to better serve their customers in the future.
A creative mind is an immensely beneficial addition to any workplace, but this is especially true in the insurance industry. As the insurance marketplace becomes increasingly crowded, plagued by commoditization and seemingly endless global threats, it is creativity that will empower you to develop the products, processes, and innovations that will set your business apart from the competition.