Bryan Stallings is the chief evangelist at Lucid Software. A leader in the agile and scrum communities since their beginnings, Bryan has been bringing people together in the workplace to solve messy technical and human problems for 20+ years.
Jessica Guistolise is an agile consultant, facilitator, and coach, bringing her passion for experiential learning to teams across the globe. She is an evangelist at Lucid Software and a leader in visual collaboration, helping teams see and build the future.
As we sat in the office together, it was obvious the developer was frustrated with his inability to find the answers to his current problem. To clear his mind, we suggested a quick game of ping pong. It took some serious convincing, given his desire to stay and figure out the problem, but he finally agreed to a quick game.
His frustration turned into relaxation—eventually, his relaxation turned to innovation. Stepping away from work and allowing himself to relax opened the avenues within his brain for creative juices to flow and genuine problem-solving to begin. Before our game was complete, he dropped his paddle and rushed back to his workstation, shouting, “I’ve figured it out!”
Establishing a culture that encourages creativity will allow business agility to accelerate your organization. Once creativity is woven into your company’s DNA, teams can generate dynamic solutions and adapt to the unpredictability of their respective industries. Here’s how your company can both value and allow creativity to be the natural response to business problems.
According to Robert E. Franken, creativity is “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.” The Business Agility Institute defines business agility as a set of organizational capabilities, behaviors, and ways of working that affords your business the freedom, flexibility, and resilience to achieve its purpose.
The freedom and flexibility connected to business agility are only possible if your organization is comfortable developing the ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that Franken calls for. Creativity opens the door to business agility, allowing your company to create solutions to unprecedented challenges with increased ease and collaboration.
Creativity also helps leaders unleash innovation for themselves and others. A culture of creativity means that great ideas don’t only come from the art department or user interface team—they can, and should, come from every employee.
As you foster creativity, you’ll also realize that creative teams are often the most diverse. These teams will bring a symphony of different experiences to further fuel business agility.
Creativity is found beyond artists and poets. A salesperson displays creativity in the multiple ways they pursue securing a meeting with a potential buyer, for example.
Many have had more time for creativity, and their comfort or skills might be more evident to those they work with. In others, creativity may be underdeveloped and not yet recognized. But, a nurturing environment can make a difference for the developers, data scientists, security teams, marketing personnel, sales teams, and HR staff.
When considering how to foster creativity and adaptability on the way to business agility, business leaders should stop blaming employees and focus instead on leadership, operations, and individuals—three of the dimensions of business agility:
- Operations: Governance and policies shouldn’t value structure at the expense of ideation and innovative spaces. It’s time to rethink team activities, the meetings we hold, the workshops we put on, and the discussion forums we host. In the chaos of the business world today, it can seem scary to invite innovation into established (read: we do it because that’s how we do it) processes. Creative solutions to typical operations challenges include refining devops practices to regularly deliver value and hosting periodic hack-a-thons or innovation days.
- Leadership: When those at the top of a company are enabling a creative mindset, others will follow. When you encourage, recognize, celebrate and expect creative breakthroughs from all employees, you break through the traditional definition of a creative.
- Individuals: When companies invest in solutions and practices that allow each individual to be creative in their own way, the energy spreads. For example, everyone at Lucid was gifted a Masterclass subscription because pursuing any creative outlet inspires excellent work. One person may decide to take a masterclass on cooking. This creative engagement can power their day-to-day pursuits for months.
To encourage creativity at Lucid, we have a de-risking exercise in our product management operations:
- Each hypothesis is scrutinized, modeled, and tested to see which path forward is the best for that initiative.
- Each team member undergoes training in the fundamentals of this approach and learns the associated templates and patterns.
- Each hypothesis is carefully considered, and no idea is dismissed immediately as foolish or silly. This demonstrates an appreciation of creative ideas at the highest levels of the company, regardless of the outcome.
Companies can construct creative activities that allow small groups to come together and collaborate. This could be especially useful for remote or hybrid teams, which may be able to communicate better and find safety in sharing ideas with fewer people on the screen. Working together as a pair or trio offers greater safety as the decreased group size limits the risk that may otherwise prevent openness. This pairing technique creates targeted conversations that ignite creativity in a more generative, fun way and yield improved quality.
As trust grows, some teams scale pairing to involve the whole team, called mobbing. Pairing and mobbing originated as the software development practices known as pair programming and mob programming. Collaborative approaches like these can spark creativity in teams inside and outside software development.
Creativity is the engine that will drive a company committed to business agility. A key foundation for fostering creativity is believing you are creative. Business leaders should not imprison creativity in the cage of a job title. They should instead create generative environments—that are conducive to creative activity—where seeds can germinate into amazing ideas from everyone. Only then will creativity become the catalyst for business agility.