Innovation—It’s More Important than Ever!

A recent study conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value surveyed 1500 CEO’s and found that creativity is the number one competency of the future, according to the respondents. A lot of things have happened to us over the past few years to cause these leaders to see the need for creativity—none the least of which was the recent global economic downturn. Organizations realized, if they hadn’t known it before, that we are all interconnected and to succeed, we have to reconsider some of the old ways of doing business.

The issue, I believe, is how to get organizations to shift how they manage people in order to encourage the innovation and creativity needed to stand out! So many leaders have not owned innovation—they’ve put that off on their research and development teams or said it was a marketing challenge. The CEOs in the IBM study who said creativity is the number one competency for the future better be taking it on at the highest levels.

How do you create an environment that encourages innovation to flourish? Well, first of all you have to have the right people. You have to hire people who know how to think “outside the box” and who aren’t afraid to speak up in order to challenge the status quo. Consider how Richard Branson hires at Virgin—they’ve made innovation one of six key characteristics they screen new hires for. He says, “to get hired at Virgin, you have to demonstrate a passion for new ideas.” So, you’d need to craft some questions to get at whether or not the applicant has that passion. You might ask a question that Jeff Bezos at Amazon asks applicants—“Tell me about something you’ve invented.” Another way to get at the creativity is to ask an applicant; “Tell me about the most creative idea you’ve ever had at work. What was it? What was the reaction to your idea? What happened to it? If it didn’t work, what did you learn from putting it forward?”

If you are truly serious about hiring creative, innovative people, your culture must be transparent. You have to listen to your employees, your customers, your competitors, and your stakeholders. Your rewards and recognition policies have to reward people who challenge the status quo and you most likely will need to untangle some of your long-held policies that keep your great employees from being their most creative.

A truly innovative organization encourages creativity at all levels—from the people who are on the front lines with your customers or members to your leadership team. In other words, innovation has to be in your organizational DNA.

What are you doing to encouraging creativity in your organization? Share your ideas with us at From time to time in this blog, we’ll share ideas on great ideas that are working for other organizations.

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