Novel Ideas

can organisations make sure lively thinkers contribute to competitiveness?
Simon Kent looks at new approaches, including a day out for WHSmith staff

fostering and promotion of creativity and innovation is a high priority for all
organisations working in competitive markets.

these qualities, however, presents a great challenge for training and
development professionals. According to Ken Robinson, Professor of Education at
the University of Warwick and author of the HTI issues paper Creative
Leadership, “Creative insights often occur by making connections between ideas
or experiences that were previously unconnected.”

creative clearly demands that individuals or teams should act or think in ways
they haven’t done before, and yet the outcome must be of direct benefit to
their organisation.

challenge lies, therefore, in encouraging employees to behave differently while
still being focused on the same organisational goals.

March, internal communications employees from WHSmith met with staff from their
external PR and advertising agencies in Bristol for a day of creative thinking.
External communications manager Tony Holdway explains, “The object of the day
was to come up with communication strategies and initiatives for moving
forwards with WHSmith. We wanted to pull together our internal and external
communications people to produce a new and forward-thinking strategy.”


rather than follow a mundane course structure – bringing everyone together over
coffee and starting the first session with an introduction at 10am – the 30 employees
took part in a cobweb-blasting exercise run by JollySerious Events in Bristol.

aim was to draw on the past to inform and inspire developments for the future.
Participants met at a cafe, were split into groups and given a list of tasks.
The next few hours were spent travelling around the city by a variety of means,
including scooters and bicycles, finding facts and interacting with actors
posing as, among others, an enigmatic fishwife and the Ancient Mariner. Tasks
included composing limericks and a scooter ballet.

Holdway is adamant that this approach to the start of the day’s work meant
participants were already thinking differently before they started on the
exercises that were more focused on the business. “As soon as you turn up to a day
like that you know it’s going to be different,” he explains. “To some extent,
because it’s different, you feel you can trust the experience more. Your
expectations of what the day is going to be like disappear, leaving you more
open to new and different ideas.”


the experience was certainly one that few participants would forget in a hurry,
Holdway is keen to stress that the exercise was simply the start of a creative
day, and that clear outcomes were fed into the design of the day itself.

with the HR department, Holdway identified the priorities of bringing external
and internal communications closer together and pushing their creative work
further. “We have to measure the effect of the course by output,” he says. “We
can say it was a good day, but it has to have a positive impact on the standard
of the advertising we’re producing and the way that we communicate as a

wanted output that was surprising and out of the ordinary. All 30 of us wrote
our feelings on a huge piece of wallpaper five minutes after the adventure – we
spent two hours on that, as it is a key to our behaviour.”

approaches are making their way into mainstream coaching. Cranfield School of
Management has recognised the importance of creativity in many of its courses.
Not only does the school run specific creative courses, the subject is included
in general managerial courses. There is even a resident quartet providing
classical music, which stimulates the right side of the brain – the more creative

Professor Simon Majaro takes an integrated approach to the development of
creativity and innovation, pointing out that fostering these values requires
attention to many facets of an organisation, including its communication
procedures, motivational factors, the development and sourcing of ideas and the
overall climate.

Timperley, a marketing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers and author of a
recent book on creative thinking, Walking on Broken Glass, says everyone has
creative potential. “Some people who may seem to be completely analytical, but
they can be creatively analytical,” he notes. “They can challenge ideas and get
to the root of a problem. Organisations need to foster these talents.”

tips for Innovation and Creativity

– Ensure the organisation is ready to act upon creative ideas when they occur.
Carry out suggestions posted to  a
suggestion box – don’t just collect them

– Reward creative ideas through incentive schemes. Creativity and challenging
the status quo should be encouraged throughout the organisation

– Creativity must be supported from the top down. If senior staff do not feel
they need to be creative, neither will other employees

– Creative exercises should include senior staff. Removing hierarchy barriers
will increase creativity and innovation

– Always identify the objective of any creative or innovative work. Is this to
solve a problem or to improve performance? How will success be measured?

– Anyone can work on and increase their creativity. Adopting techniques that
exercise the right side of the brain will help improve creative talents

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