In a competitive economic environment, business leaders innovate with new ideas, improved product, or efficient operations to meet customer needs. Leadership may be urged to get creative to meet the market. When we think creatively we use the right hemisphere of our brain. Logical thought, by comparison, is associated with the left hemisphere. Combination of both types of thought is necessary for innovation according to Daniel Pink in “A Whole New Mind.” He describes integration of left and right brain thought saying, “The future belongs to whole brain thinkers.”
Idea revolution or evolution
Ideas may be revolutionary or evolutionary. When we speak of revolutionary business ideas we are referring to disruption with what is accepted as normal. We are not referring to revolution in a political or government context. Historic examples of these types of revolutionary ideas include the printing press and manufacturing assembly line. Recent examples include the transistor and personal computer. Future products have yet to be conceived, but could include manufactured human organs for example.
Evolutionary ideas are more common. Each software upgrade, such as Windows 10, is product innovation. In the music industry The Beatles attributed much of their style innovation to earlier recordings by The Beach Boys. And, Hollywood loves a sequel, which is genre innovation. There will be eleven editions of “Star Wars’ with the latest release!
These examples of evolutionary ideas represent whole brain thinking. They share three imperatives for business innovation:
Cultivate whole brain thought
Since most new knowledge is evolutionary, and unless your focus is industry disruption, what is the value of creative thought without logical or practical considerations? The environment for a new idea includes your business culture, history, finances, operations, personnel, market, customers, and everything necessary to support your company. If creative thought does not consider your environment, innovation may fail. This seems obvious, but practical considerations may be bypassed in a rush to innovate.
Implementation of a new business idea must, therefore, be creative and balanced with reality. A proposal entitled “Guitars in the Hallway” is an example of how to manifest a creative idea within the context of practical constraints for innovation in a corporate work environment.
Guitars in the Hallway
Employee musicians at a Fortune 1000 financial services company requested permission to practice guitar in corporate corridors during lunch period. The company advocated employee enrichment in their strategic plan. And, the corporation wanted improved employee engagement to bolster worker retention and workforce productivity.
The request was creative, but was the idea practical? Musician live performances would conflict with other employees who desired a quiet work environment. Staff, who reviewed the proposal, initially rejected the idea as not feasible. However, on further reflection with whole brain thinking, they asked, “How do we balance a creative proposal with practical constraints?” To answer this question, staff followed the three imperatives for business innovation and recommended a multi-purpose room.
What is good in this idea?
“Guitars in the Hallway” proposal met musician’s desires. It also revealed a potential for other unmet employee development needs. A multi-purpose room could provide space for musicians and activities such as craft fairs, art shows, exercise classes, yoga, group meetings, and other unanticipated uses. When these needs were investigated, demand for flexible use space options materialized.
How do we make this happen?
An underutilized reading/conference room was retrofitted as multi-purpose space. The current room included lounge chairs, racks for periodicals, and a conference table. Reading and conference space are incompatible uses so it’s understandable why the room had little use. Furniture and fixtures for reading did not support employee’s desires for digital communication access. The reading/conference room was intended for a single purpose. By definition, a multi-purpose room would serve many needs. The space plan for the new room included flexible furniture options, digital access, and open space to accommodate a variety of activities.
What unique twist do we need to make it feasible?
Retrofitting under-utilized space reduced project cost and lowered occupancy expenses. Pre-registration was required to use the room. Registration prevented conflicts within the space and with adjacent uses. Registration also acted as a filter, separating ill-conceived plans from desirable uses. Human Resources department managed the room and administered registration as part of their accountability for employee engagement.
The room is a success. A win for everyone! Space is currently booked six months in advance. Additional flexible utilization rooms are planned.
A first idea is not necessarily the best creative thought and may be rejected as impractical. Possible alternative benefits of a proposal may need to be fully investigated. The concept may also suggest other unmet needs, which could be broader in scope than the presented idea. When we ask, “what is the value of this idea, how can we make it happen, and what is unique to make the idea feasible,” we move from creative thought to practical considerations. When we winnow an idea we find the idea’s essence to drive evolutionary innovation.
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a creativity coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.