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Author's profile photo Janaki Kumar

Seven steps to a creative culture

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein


Creating a creative team – and nurturing the creativity of individuals — is an art and a science. Here in the SAP Design and Co-Innovation Center, we have made it our mission to foster creativity that sparks innovation. Let me share with you seven steps to creating and cultivating a creative culture:

  1. Hire people with the right skill sets and mindsets. When hiring someone, in addition to checking candidates’ skill set via their resumes, find a way to check out their mindset. For example, in our team, we play warm-up games as part of design thinking workshops, so, we have found it useful to ask the candidate to lead a warm-up game with the team. We let the candidate pick the game to play. And this choice tells us a lot about the candidate.
  2. Encourage team members to broaden their skill sets. Once you hire team members, set expectations that they are signing up to be continuous learners. Someone might be an expert in one area, but we expect that individual to stretch and learn adjacent areas to be able to collaborate effectively with the rest of the team. (For more on multifaceted team members, click here.)
  3. Build empathy for your customers. Un-channeled creativity could lead to chaos if people feel constrained from expressing themselves. To give your team a way to channel their creative energy, encourage them to understand their customer’s needs, aspirations, pain points and build a deep empathy for them. In the Design and Co-innovation Center, we do this through a variety of research methods before every project – onsite observation, interviews, surveys, and even guerilla methods such as friends and family research or man-on the street interviews to walk in the shoes of the user and ground our design decisions on empathy. This will allow your team to focus on the right problems and create customer value.
  4. Empower your team. A creative team needs to feel empowered. They need to have the freedom and responsibility to use their creative problem solving skills to do their best work.  As a leader, your main job is to inspire them and remove obstacles from their path.
  5. Set up the team for success. At the same time, creativity is fragile, and it needs to be nurtured. As a leader, setting people up for success involves connecting them to the right resources including as domain experts, and offering the right guidance at the right time, so they don’t waste too much time going in the wrong direction.
  6. Celebrate success and failure. No matter how much a leader sets up her team for success, there will inevitably be failures. And that is okay as long as the team views failures as part of the iterative creative process. Celebrate the ideas that were generated and the creativity that was unleashed. In my experience, if the idea was a good one, you will get a chance again to implement it in a new project. And if it was not good, this was a valuable learning opportunity for you and the team. Take it in stride.
  7. Do it all over again.  And finally, don’t get too comfortable. Fostering creativity is a full-time job. Teams will change, your mission will change, your organization will change. and nurturing a culture for creativity and innovation is a continuous process

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