Why SME leaders should harness the creativity of their workforce

“There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.” —Edward de Bono

Many CEOs often talk shop about creativity and innovation being critical for an organisation’s success in maintaining its competitive advantage and in surviving, however practical commitment to the principle is harder to come by, Carl Rodrigues, CEO, SOTI .

The creativity conundrum

Unless concerted efforts are made to nurture and encourage a culture of creativity and innovation, it has the potential to fizzle. Some organisations, however, have found a way to stimulate creativity and initiative among their employees, converting intriguing ideas into commercially-viable solutions, products, and ventures that differentiate the company and its customers.

SMEs can look to large organisations that have found success in fostering this type of culture. They know that no single practice enables them to identify and capture new opportunities but, rather, often requires pulling and pushing a variety of levers to bring it to life. There are certain individuals – referred to as “intrapreneur” who are naturally inclined to deliver this fresh and creative thinking but they need to be unbound from the day-to-day pressures which typically act as a roadblock to free thought and ideas.

Make process a path to creativity, not a roadblock

Often an organisation can be unclear as to what is causing a lack of creativity. Before arriving at a decision that employees are simply not imaginative, business leaders must ask, ‘Are there any obstructions in the organisation which block their ideas before they are adequately expressed?’ The real focus for any successful business, big or small, may not lie solely with getting employees to come up with inventive ideas, but rather in finding the best, most practical ways of implementing those ideas.

Companies are sometimes bogged down in process, with too many approval levels, too many committees that need to weigh in, and more hindering bureaucratic processes. These day to day pressures can drain the innovative spirit right out of an organisation. Therefore, all businesses should create pods for the pursuit of innovative freedom, believe in the employees and allow them to take risks and reward success and even failure in innovation.

In order to make this happen at SOTI, we recently established three development units to create a dynamic working environment, as it would be impossible to keep pace with the innovation required to stay ahead in a competitive mobile market without having processes in place for radical thinking about our offerings.

For example, we have special projects in our research and innovation lab isolated from corporate headquarters in a no-holds barred think tank environment for prototyping innovations for the connected enterprise. Their only task is to uncover futuristic innovations for the connected world that answer the question “what if”.

Turning innovative intentions into cultural shift across the company

Of course, it is not just product development that needs creativity. Any employee in a large business has the potential to think like an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, too many CEOs rarely turn employee ‘blue sky thinking’ into a practical change within the business. There is a responsibility within the C-Suite to give employees the time and space they need to think creatively, and turn their innovative pursuits into reality – and thus drive a creative culture in all facets of the business. At SOTI we found that we would only continue staying ahead of the technological curve if we encouraged our employees to have confidence in their business beliefs and creativity.

At SOTI, we recently introduced a new program to accomplish this. “SOTI Jolt” is intended to encourage and provide employees with dedicated time towards innovative pursuits, either technology or business based. The program encourages employees to propose new project ideas to a committee, and if the idea meet the criteria of the programme, the employee and a team of SOTI employees that he or she personally selects are offered “Innovation Time” (up to 20 per cent) of each working week, to bring their concept to life. The programme allows employees to work on projects that they are passionate about, and in turn, pushes the company’s innovation to new heights.

Guidelines need to be set in place to help get ideas off the ground and to meet the needs of the business. Having parameters in place creates a safe environment for people to push their idea to its limits – and reduces people’s fear of failure, meaning they are more likely to have confidence in their decisions.

Once you have created a creative culture, and put employees in an environment where they can be freed to imagine the possibilities, you can convert these ideas into realities. For ideas to grow, companies should embrace this mind-set, and be open to it.

Carl Rodrigues, CEO, SOTI