When it comes to having bold, original ideas, there’s an interesting paradox. To generate these “unsafe” ideas, people must work in a safe environment.
I made this remark during my opening keynote at the InHOWse Managers Conference. And several attendees emailed afterwards to agree with the statement or to ask questions about safe environments. So I want to briefly expand the discussion to this blog.
When discussing “unsafe” ideas, I, of course, don’t mean careless or ineffective ideas; I’m referring to ideas that play it so safe that they are always average and ordinary, uninspiring and unimaginative.
And with safe environments, I’m not describing sterile or silent ones. And I sure don’t mean insipid or uninspired workplaces. I’m talking about an environment where people feel totally safe to try something new, speak their minds and screw up from time to time.
Check out any highly creative workplace – Google, Nike, Apple or other usual suspects. You’ll no doubt see various degrees of the chaos and confusion that help fuel creativity. But you’ll also find environments where employees feel completely safe to express themselves, experiment and make mistakes.
For you and your team to generate an ongoing stream of unsafe ideas, be sure your environment is safe for creativity to easily flow:
- Experiment. Encourage yourself and team members to stretch beyond the ordinary and seek the extraordinary. Move out of comfort zones and velvet ruts. Put aside the first idea that pops up as a solution to any challenge, because that’s usually the same idea others would have if faced with the same problem. Strive for bigger and bolder ideas. Support and promote constant exploration – looking outside of the organization, outside of the marketplace and outside of routine resources for insights and inspiration.
- Express. Nourish an atmosphere where people are generous in sharing and in receiving ideas. Make brainstorming a judgment-free zone. Save editing, critiques and heated discussions for follow-up meetings – and facilitate those meetings to keep them from becoming bitch sessions or bashing rounds. Get rough sketches, prototypes, inspiration boards and completed projects out in the open and up on walls. Find ways to have people crossing paths, sharing stories and celebrating successes.
- Make Mistakes. Tell yourself and your team that it’s OK to make mistakes, but accept only: (a) good mistakes – strong efforts but weak results; not lazy or sloppy efforts and bad results; (b) original mistakes – not the same mistakes make a second or third time, and (c) rescued mistakes – when a mistake is made, the person who made it immediately shifts to a rescue mode to stop the mistake from becoming a catastrophe.
- Stay Grounded. To close out this discussion, also remember this: To have truly groundbreaking ideas, people need to work in a grounded environment. They need a place where they can – to use an overused expression – keep their heads in the cloud but their feet on the ground.
Provide your team members with the safety necessary to express, experiment and make mistakes. But also train and inspire them to keep their extraordinary ideas squarely grounded in the heart, soul and mind of the organization and its stakeholders.