For those seeking creativity, the following are practical action items (i.e. directives) from Adam Grant's book Originals. The first steps are for individuals to generate, recognize, voice, and champion new ideas. The next set is for leaders to stimulate novel ideas and build cultures that welcome dissent.
Generating and Recognizing Original Ideas
- Question the default
- Instead of taking the status quo for granted, ask why it exists in the first place. When you remember that rules and systems were created by people, it becomes clear that they're not set in stone - and you begin to consider how they can be improved.
- Triple the number of ideas you generate
- The best way to boost your originality is to produce more ideas.
- Immerse yourself in a new domain
- Originality increases when you broaden your frame of reference. One approach is to learn a new craft. Another strategy is to try a job rotation: get trained to do a position that requires a new base of knowledge and skills. A third option is to learn about a different culture, like the fashion designers who became more innovative when they lived in foreign countries that were very different from their own.
- Procrastinate strategically
- When you're generating new ideas, deliberately stop when your progress is incomplete. By taking a break in the middle of your brainstorming or writing process, you're more likely to engage in divergent thinking and give ideas time to incubate.
- Seek more feedback from peers
- It's hard to judge your own ideas, because you tend to be too enthusiastic, and you can't trust your gut if you're not an expert in the domain. It's also tough to rely on managers, who are typically too critical when they evaluate ideas. To get the most accurate reviews, run your pitches by peers - they're poised to spot the potential the possibilities.
Voicing and Championing Original Ideas
- Balance your risk portfolio
- When you're going to take a risk in one domain, offset it by being unusually cautious in another realm of your life.
- Highlight the reasons not to support your idea
- Start by describing the three biggest weaknesses of your idea and then ask them to list several more reasons not to support it. Assuming that the idea has some merit, when people have to work hard to generate their own objections, they will be more aware of its virtues.
- Make your ideas more familiar
- Repeat yourself - it makes people more comfortable with an unconventional idea. Reactions typically become more positive after 10 to 20 exposures to an idea, particularly if they're short, spaced apart by a few days, and mixed in with other ideas. You can also make your original concept more appealing by connecting it with other ideas that are already understood by the audience.
- Speak to a different audience
- Instead of seeking out friendly people who share you values, try approaching disagreeable people who share your methods. Your best allies are the people who have a track record of being tough and solving problems with approaches similar to yours.
- Be a tempered radical
- If your idea is extreme, couch it in a more conventional goal. That way, instead of changing people's minds, you can appeal to values or beliefs that they already hold. You can also position your proposal as a means to an end that matters to others. And if you're already known as too extreme, you can shift from leader to lightning rod, allowing more moderate people to take the reins.
Sparking Original Ideas
- Run an innovation tournament
- Welcoming suggestions on any topic at any time doesn't capture the attention of busy people. Innovation tournaments, therefore, are highly efficient for collecting a large number of novel ideas. Instead of a suggestion box, send a focused call for ideas to solve a particular problem or meet an untapped need.
- Picture yourself as the enemy
- People often fail to generate new ideas due to a lack of urgency. You can create urgency by implementing the "kill the company" exercise. Gather a group together and invite them to come up with strategies to but the organization out of business - or decimate its most popular product, service, or technology. Then, hold a discussion about the most serious threats and how to convert them into opportunities to transition from defense to offense.
- Hold an opposite day
- Divide people into groups, and each chooses an assumption, belief, or area of knowledge that is widely taken for granted. Each group asks, "when is the opposite true?" and then delivers a presentation on their ideas.
Building Cultures of Originality
- Hire not on cultural fit, but on cultural contribution
- When leaders prize cultural fit, they end of p hiring people who think in similar ways. Originality comes not from people who match the culture, but from those who enrich it. Before interviews, identify the diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and personality traits that are currently missing from your culture. Then place a premium on those attributes in the hiring process.
- Ask for problems, not solutions
- If people rush to answers, you end up with more advocacy than inquiry, and miss out on the breadth of knowledge in the room. Following Bridgewater's issue log, you can create an open document for teams to flag problems that they see. On a monthly basis, bring people together to review them and figure out which ones are worth solving.
- Stop assigning devil's advocates and start unearthing them
- Dissenting opinions are useful even when they're wrong, but they're only effective if they're authentic and consistent. Instead of assigning people to play devil's advocate, find people who genuinely hold minority opinions, and invite them to present their views. To identify these people make someone responsible for seeking out team members individually before meetings to find out what they know.
- Welcome criticism
- By inviting employees to criticize you publicly, you can set the tone for people to communicate more openly even when their ideas are unpopular.