Three Ways to Nurture the Idea People at Your Company
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
By Pattie Baker
Every business has that one person who’s every sentence starts, “What if?” or “What do you think about?” or “Could we?” This is an Idea Person, and I beg you to recognize this species as early as possible and to refer immediately to the Care and Feeding of Idea People pamphlet. What, you don’t have that one? It’s not there along with your Workplace Safety brochure or your Employee Benefits overview?
Well, I’m not surprised. Most companies have absolutely no idea what to do with Idea People. In fact, they do their best to drive them away. They answer their endless questions with “We can’t because” or “That’s not the way we do things” or “Just do your job and stop wasting time.” They try to change these people, and sometimes they are actually successful, if beating the spirit out of a human being is what you consider success to be.
Companies that don’t value Idea People lose more than those people—they lose the opportunity to take advantage of an outside-the-box thinker who can identify new opportunities, design streamlined processes, and invigorate employee morale. What’s more, Idea People can lead to important marketing differentiators because they can help you secure the market leader position in innovation, can help you shout it out about how great it is to work at your company, and can raise the bar on customer service, thereby helping you secure more passionate and meaningful reviews on Kudzu and stand out in front of customers.
Savvy companies embrace these folks. They give them some open-ended assignments that allow for creative interpretation. They make resources available to them. They accommodate their idiosyncrasies, at least a bit. They do not penalize occasional failures. They encourage calculated risks and reward those who dare to dream.
Here are some ways you can embrace the creative spirit at your company beyond just the Idea People:
- Allow your employees to spend a percentage of their time on a “passion project.” Sound wasteful? Some major companies do just this, and they find that a good deal of their most successful research and development accomplishments are somehow related to just allowing their employees to “follow their interests.”
- Offer an employee benefit of a paid sabbatical to pursue something of interest. Again, some companies do this, usually after a certain amount of time of service. They find that their employees come back refreshed, rejuvenated and raring to go to apply what they’ve learned elsewhere to the work environment.
- Foster creative thinking every day. Encourage the use of an employee suggestion box. Paint a chalkboard on one of the walls in a break room. Put crayons and a white paper tablecloth on a conference room table. Have contests. Brainstorm. Follow every suggestion with “Yes, and” instead of, “No, because” even if you don’t think it is feasible (for instance, you can say, “Yes, and how exactly will we do that, considering that it costs a lot of money and is difficult to accomplish?” That gives the Idea Person the ability to keep refining rather than abandon what might turn out to be a good idea. You may be shocked at the outcome!)
Here is one of the best videos I’ve seen on nurturing people who are highly creative. Sure, it refers to schools, but you can apply many of the concepts to your place of business as well. And yes, I know it’s 20 minutes long, but it may be the best 20 minutes you’ll ever spend on your business development.