Earlier on the Thrive blog, we discussed three tips to fueling creativity and innovation in your organization. You can read the post here if you want the whole picture, but the three fuels discussed are information, structure, and commitment. You must have these three things if you are to have any sustained success in developing creative ideas or thriving through innovation. In recent experiences these three fuels have continued to be confirmed as critical to success, but there is a fourth dimension to success in these areas that was not explored in this last blog post. Although these factors are important, if organizations do not plan for creative capacity in their organization then there will be no forward momentum in this area.
Creative capacity refers to the amount of time specific resource that an employee has free to devote to the creative or innovative process.
Creative capacity is difficult to manage. It’s one of those “soft items” that makes many traditional managers and leaders very uncomfortable. We don’t talk about this in business school, and it sure doesn’t fit into traditional views of managing employees. Managers may typically feel that allowing for creative capacity in their staff teams is wasting time. There will often be few concrete direct links to performance improvement when allowing for creative capacity, but the fact is it is a non-negotiable if you plan to have innovative success. Employees must have the unstructured and unscheduled time available to be creative. It is very naive for managers to request that their teams be more creative without allowing for extra capacity to accomplish this.
The difficulty then for organizations is how to effectively manage this time. If it is to be unstructured than how can leaders effectively manage performance results of this investment. Obviously we can’t just throw performance management to the wind, but traditional metrics won’t work in these highly unstructured situations. Measuring creative ideas per hour is not going to get you very far. The answer to effectively managing creative process in an unstructured environment lands on three key factors; leadership, culture, and hiring. Organizational leaders must establish expectations of how this time is used and lead by example, showing employees how they use the time. Secondly, creative process must become part of the culture and rewarded. If employees know that innovative ideas will be rewarded and creativity praised, they will work towards this end. Thirdly, hire people who enjoy being creative. They will naturally use this time to form new concepts, solve problems, and develop creative solutions and products.
Finally, we must explore the questions that is the elephant in the room. How much time, or creative capacity, must we allow employees? The ultimate answer to this is going to be dependent on each organization and the specific needs that exist. Author Daniel Pink is a proponent of the 20% time. That is, allowing employees 20% of their paid time for creativity and innovation. This has worked significantly well for many large organizations, including Google. Many of us use Gmail, which was one of many products at Google developed during 20% time. Your organization may or may not need this much time, and it would most likely not be wise to start out here. Assuming 20% is probably about as much as most organizations would want to commit, it might be effective for your organization to start with just 5% creative capacity. In a 40 hour work week, that is only 2 hours. Here is a plan for starting to develop creative capacity in your organization:
1. Allow employees 2 hours a week for unstructured creative or innovative work.
2. Establish expectations for how this time will be used. Don’t apply metrics, but do let employees know that it will be monitored for overall effectiveness.
3. Give employees guidelines of some potential projects, ideas, and problems they could work on. This will give them content to start with.
4. Read “Fueling Creativity and Innovation” here on the Thrive Blog for more guidance.
5. Consider hiring Thrive to help you develop and implement an effective plan.