This post is Part 2 of an exploration on creativity in the workplace, inspired after reading Josh Linkner’s terrific book Disciplined Dreaming. I encourage my readers to pick up or download this book. As I did in the previous post on this topic, for now I am skipping the first four steps in Linkner’s process for inciting creativity at work to focus on the last step – bringing your ideas to life – as I am fully living that stage of the process right now. I will backtrack at some point and share some thoughts on the ideation phases, but I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far because great ideas are worthless if you can’t get others to believe in them and enlist their full support to put them into action.
Linkner offers some great strategies to select ideas and prototype and demo them, but he doesn’t touch on the internal selling and adoption of the idea once you’ve done those things. In my last post, I discussed the strategic role an agency can play in bringing the idea to life, whether through a demo, a video, a simulated conversation with a customer, or a manifesto. But how do you then take that, evangelize it, sell it, and ultimately get it adopted by others – willingly – within the organization? How does your idea become reality in a way that continues to nurture an environment of creative thinking? To drive results that create the competitive advantage? To continually question and challenge the status quo?
I’ve been through this process so many times that a good friend and mentor of mine, Donna Fox, and I decided to map it out one day over coffee a year ago:
Conduct demonstration projects. Some people call these pilots. I prefer the term ‘demonstration’ because pilots have a go/no-go feel to them depending on their success and require a lot of resources. Demonstration projects are meant to show that change is not only possible, but it is good, in very small pockets with minimal resources and disruption. Armed with your creative idea brought to life, choose 2-3 projects where you could put the idea into action. In other words, build a coalition of the willing and get an executive sponsor for the idea. For example, if you are responsible for sales enablement and have come up with a creative tool that all of sales should have immediately, pick a small subset of the sales team to demonstrate the new tool and ensure that not only your management, but also their sales director, is on board. If you are re-positioning a product or solution and you have brought the idea to life in a customer presentation, lock arms with a few trusted salespeople to test out the deck in real life with real customers. Caution! Don’t choose demonstration projects that are expensive or so visible that a failure would have stark consequences. Choose the projects carefully!
Demonstration projects enable you to build momentum and excitement by enrolling others firsthand in the idea. You start to see where the resistance is and you can build action plans to address it and even convert derailers into supporters. You demonstrate that change can happen without it being a burden on the enrollee. You learn to understand others’ motivations, fears, and agendas. And you solicit opinions and feedback that make your idea even better. Measuring and reporting the results of demonstration projects is critical, and I recommend having a third-party conduct the measurement so that you do not have to personally create credibility for the results.
Scale The Wall. It is common during or after a demonstration project to come up against what I call “The Wall.” The Wall is a sudden slow-down in progress or a build-up of resistance that prevents the idea from moving forward. Failing to scale The Wall is dangerous. I believe it is one of the main reasons creativity in the workplace suffers and ideas come to a full stop. The Wall must be scaled because (a) so many people are bought in and believers of the idea at this stage through their participation in the demonstration projects that a slow-down or “all-stop” can compromise the idea altogether, (b) the person leading the idea can become demoralized or lose personal credibility. To scale The Wall, it is necessary for the leaders of the idea and their management chain to be in agreement on timelines, communication paths, and access to people, information, and resources (time, money, attention). Scenario planning is a must – take the time to think through potential areas of compromise and continue to evangelize your idea. Don’t give up! Instead,
- Schedule regular meetings with enrollees and support them through the demonstration projects.
- Do not de-commit demonstration project resources and support.
- Openly discuss the emotions surrounding the idea to understand others’ motivations and agendas.
- Build an internal support team that can help you re-frame reversals or setbacks and gain perspective to move forward.
Consolidate wins. As you scale The Wall, you’ll begin to consolidate the wins from the demonstration projects. Again, it is important to have assistance in measuring the results so that your credibility isn’t questioned. You should also incorporate the appropriate learnings from the demonstration projects. Your idea can get watered down or altered from all the feedback during consolidation, so it is important to be very clear on what you will and will not compromise on during this stage. At this point, a detailed execution plan should be built that includes budget, timelines, dependencies, risks, resources, etc. Move forward with creativity, passion, thoughtfulness, and boldness.
Scale and integrate. Don’t declare victory too early. Keep building on the idea and continue to set goals that drive the momentum with others. Ensure continued executive sponsorship of the idea and talk about success and progress every chance you get. Publicly recognize all the people you enrolled who helped you get your idea implemented, and foster an environment where everyone believes that their idea, no matter how big or small, makes a difference.
I agree with Linkner that harnessing creativity is key to competitive advantage. I hope this post helps motivate you to harness yours in the workplace and drive your ideas so that your creativity can make a difference. What do you think?