Innovation - The Need for Creativity and to Keep an Open Mind! (Part 2)

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Dan Morris

By Dan Morris and Rod Moyer

This column is the second of a two part series on innovation. In the first column in this series we looked at a culture of creativity. In this column we will look at the characteristics needed to support innovation.

Active listening, being open minded in seeking new ideas and being creative are the keys to innovation. Without these traits, neither people nor companies can really be innovative.

The Key to finding innovation is a wiliness to listen and an open mind

Everyone will say they have an open mind – but do they?

I thought I was open minded. But as I thought about it, I started to look at how I often acted and I realized that sometimes I form an opinion before the other person is finished speaking. That means that I may be jumping to a conclusion without all the facts. That also means that I was forming opinions based on personal bias filters and assuming things that maybe I shouldn’t. I also realized that most of us do this unconsciously. We "jump to conclusions." It is just part of the trade–offs we have made to adjust to a very full work day. But, this trait is not a good one and I personally intend to make a change in my listening habits.

Why? I believe that this is really a symptom of being closed minded and it is something that I am working to correct. This is an important point. Being open mind is actually critical to creating the best possible solution. Going beyond creating a best possible solution is where creativity kicks in and innovation takes place. But, that requires that people have a firm understanding of their business and the changes that are taking place around them – marketplace, regulatory, IT, production technology and new change approaches and techniques. It is the creative application of this knowledge that allows people to find new and innovative ways to improve.

Characteristics of close minded people

  1. Thinking that you have all the answers and no one can possibly have a better idea
  2. Not letting people finish making the point they are talking about
  3. Interrupting and taking over the conversation
  4. Believing that everything must be done your way
  5. Rejecting "wild, out of the box" ideas without really thinking them through
  6. Making up your mind before the facts have been fully presented
  7. Believing that your opinion is the only one that really matters

Note: This is not a paper about personal improvement; methods for correcting these traits can be found through web research or through your HR department. This usually includes personal counseling and training.

Why is this important?

This need for an open mind is a critical foundation for innovation. It is the basis for all advancement and the path to having good insight. Without this foundation trait, innovation will be rejected and evolution will be stifled. This will kill a business over time.

Ok, so what then are characteristics of open minded people? The first answer is the opposite of everything on the list above. Right! But there has to be more than that. Objectively, yes, there are the opposites of the 7 characteristics of a close minded person above. But, there are also:

  1. A personal focus on creativity
  2. Respecting people and their ability to observe things – and find new ways to do tasks better
  3. Working with people who have performance issues or other problems to improve
  4. Promoting small groups of people (who do the same work) to looking at how they can improve - a variation on the high performing team concept
  5. Encouraging the people on the floor to come up with ideas
  6. Working with IT to understand what can and cannot be done and talking with staff about this support and what they could do with it to solve problems and increase performance
  7. Understanding that, in among all the ideas or parts of ideas that fail, there can be gold nuggets and when you take them, reshuffle them and creatively apply them, there can be great new ways to improve
  8. Sometimes it takes someone who doesn’t know the business to see the problems and look at them in a fresh way

But, ranking above all of these traits, is adopting a belief that anyone is capable of a breakthrough idea.

Personal Propensity

Really having an open mind is actually tough. It means setting aside your personal beliefs, experiences, and biases and listening to what someone else is saying. Really listening! While this is tough enough for most of us (including me), listening without letting your bias filters kick in takes practice. The fact is that being open to consider something you may at first disagree with is not easy. Then evaluating the points objectively, setting aside your preconceived ideas and really looking at the plusses and minuses of something is even harder and frankly more rare.

How many times have you cut someone off in mid-sentence when you disagree with what you think they are saying. Aside from being rude, you are being closed minded. I know from personal experiences – I had this trait. But, recognizing it, I am working to get rid of it. And, admit it, you hate when someone cuts you off in mid-sentence. We all do.

The best and brightest minds and the most capable people are absolutely worthless when stymied by pre conceived limits and ideas. Innovation needs creative freedom and companies that truly want innovation need to understand that they cannot have innovation if they put a fear of failure into their managers and staff members.

Everyone wants to be heard and appreciated. Everyone wants to contribute and most people will have good ideas on how to make their work easier or better. But too often, team members, project managers, clients, and users hit brick walls while listening and shut down. They form opinions based on part of what a person is saying – failing to pay attention beyond the point where they make their decision on the value of what they are hearing. This can be a result of the speaker not formulating the presentation well or describing the idea well or a variety of reasons. But, it results in good and sometimes innovative ideas not being considered. We all need to separate the idea from the presentation. So, we have possible issues on both sides of the communication. And, we can have team frustration and a belief that their managers don’t respect them because they don’t listen to ideas.

This is a problem that can only be resolved by open minded managers who solicit team feedback throughout a project. Active and open listening and encouraging people to evolve ideas with potential is unfortunately rare given everyone’s schedules. But we need to take the time because the result is savings in cost, time and error.

Innovation – are you ready to really listen to innovative ideas?

Clearly innovation is a broad topic because it can be applied to any area of human endeavor. We have seen unparalleled technical innovation, medical innovation and much more. In business operations we are on the edge of a technology revolution that can change everything we do – if we are open to change and are creative in how we look at the business operations, what can be done, the customer and how our companies evolve. However, this evolution will require a new way to look at business operations and a willingness to be creative in how we deal with customers and change.

No time to save time – too busy to worry about being open minded

One result of many years of cost reduction in some companies is an inability to follow up on ideas for improvement. They are simply running too lean. Many business managers are up to their chins in work. Many staff members have had to shoulder the work of those who have been "rightsized" out of the operation. This is a result of the "do more with less" attitude that has been a key goal in the cost reduction movement. It is also a result of the "work shifting" technique that some used to cut cost in their business areas.

The same is true for many IT operations. This time restriction causes a type of closed mindedness as managers feel that good improvement ideas will never be given the time needed to mature. They "just don’t have time to try new things". This attitude causes organizations to lose opportunity as managers are too overwhelmed to have time to listen to ideas - trying to find some that may work. This constant rushing causes many to fail to listen fully to ideas and really consider them as carefully as they should. So, many ideas are never raised and many good ideas are left on the table. Critics say that this ensures that only the best ideas are considered. You can make up your own mind on that one.

So there is literally no time to invest in saving time – until things get so bad that there is really no choice. The fact is, that when everything is falling apart, silo barriers, politics, and other barriers are eased and many people pull together – listening for ideas on how to get out of the mess they are in. Then either continuous improvement or operational improvement projects are approved to fix the situation. People take the time to listen to new ideas out of desperation and many adversaries work together for their common good. However, by this time, things are really bad and money is being wasted and the ability of the company to compete is being affected.

What I believe is needed is a minor investment to build the foundation for innovation by proactively looking for ways to save time and listen to ideas from both managers and the people on the floor.

Managers must make time to engage people in innovation

In a few companies I have helped management implement idea boards – both manual and on web sites. These were most often part of a change management program. The ideas came from all over and were encouraged – no one is ever ridiculed for a dumb idea and for those that are strongly considered, the person with the idea was rewarded. Frankly, some ideas were weird, but some had a nugget of gold in them. We were also able to combine a few and obtain serious benefit. But, the reviewers had to be both open minded and creative – and they had to understand the business operation at a detailed level.

At a minimum, everyone learned things. Problems were identified, impact was discussed and improvement ideas got everyone thinking. Everyone benefits from this and everyone’s understanding of the business operation improved. This, in turn, allowed creativity to kick in and based on a knowledge of the business, emerging IT capabilities and new ways to affect change (like BPM and BPMS), innovation happened and many millions were saved, while the operation expanded and the number of managers and staff actually increased to handle an increasing business load.


Those managers and people who are the brick walls and resist change are the Nay Sayers. Even when faced with the facts, they will play down the significance of an idea, opting for the status quo. In reality, you will need identify these people and leave them out of the quest for innovation. That doesn’t make them bad or lacking in any way. It simply means that their abilities are better focused in other areas.

Not invented here - No one can know more than we do

There are also those who’s just cannot seem to accept that others can find ways to do things that they haven’t thought of or can do things they cannot. These are the people who always have a "better" idea, plan or approach. They are the ones who criticize without being able to be constructive or acknowledge good work from others.

As with the Nay-Sayers, these managers and people probably aren’t the best choice for innovation.

Each group has its strengths and weaknesses and each person can often see things others cannot. The fact is that groups will hit brick walls in their quest for innovation and at that point they need to be open minded and bring in others to see if they can come up with new insights and ideas. These "others" may be from other internal groups, from an internal Center of Excellence, or be from a consulting firm. It may take input from all of these groups. But, to make this input effective, the team and management must be open to new concepts and new ideas.

In addition, it takes work and perseverance (and courage) but yesterday is yesterday and tomorrow is a new beginning. Companies can change as new people come on board. Older managers can in fact, learn new tricks and only the dumb will not change if it is to their advantage. The dinosaurs showed us that lesson.

Freedom to try and learn

By now it is clear that I am a great supporter of innovation and creativity. In fact when I am asked what my most valuable trait is, I answer that I am creative. However, creative people must have open minds and must be supported by people with open minds. What starts as a wild idea may evolve into gold. That is the basis for innovation. But, this all requires the freedom to try new things and that in turn requires an ability to support rapid change and the cultural backing to analyze, evaluate, postulate, iterate and test new ideas and then learn from both successes and failures.

This is the foundation of a learning organization – a bit of an old fashioned term, but still very applicable. Those who learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others are far ahead of the game. Those that believe they must try to repeat again what has already failed, the same way, over and over are not innovators and need to be controlled. And, yes that is the "definition" of insanity. (But, we all know that this doesn’t apply to any of us.)

This sharing of information and knowledge is important, but it is hard on the ego. No one likes to broadcast their failures. Many do not want to share what they have learned, thinking it is theirs and they want the credit. The fact is that barriers are easily built and organizations tend to evolve to share only success, telling people what they want to hear.

Creating the openness to collaborate and share information is tough. But, that doesn’t mean that it cannot be done or that doing it will not have benefits in innovation.

So, innovation and creativity require a few things to take root and grow. The environment and the attitudes can be created and with an open mind, ideas can be encouraged and those that hold the most promise can be tried, iterated and evolve into true innovation.

As always, I hope that you enjoyed this discussion and I hope it will give you something to think about. Please contact me at daniel.morris@wendan-consultingwith comments, or call me at 630-290-4858. I always enjoy talking with my readers.