Foster an innovative culture in your company.

CAN A JOURNALIST BY TRAINING ever lead an advertising company that prides itself on creative solutions for clients? Remember journalists uncover objective facts and report them; hardly an exercise in creativity. But Jeff Young, the chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based marketing firm Bader Rutter, who has a background in journalism, feels one of his strengths is his curiosity about everything. Why?

The brain is hardwired to think in a structured, logical way through the left hemisphere. But current science about the brain has also established that the right hemisphere is the normal source of creativity. Curiosity, as its origin, is in the right side of the brain. So how do we make sure as individuals and as employees we can tap the creative right side of our brain?

The key is to encourage and promote curiosity throughout the organization.

In the book “Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century,” the author, Sean Patrick, points out that it is critical to expose ourselves to an abundance of ideas, facts, art and stories that in turn bring our imagination to life.

Therefore, creativity begins with curiosity and in our personal life. The author argues that the more material grist we’re exposed to in this world, the more our imagination will grow. Tesla fully immersed himself in the world of electricity. He read hundreds of books. He conducted thousands of experiments and took copious
notes. Thanks to Tesla, we all use alternating current – far superior to the direct current used by Thomas Edison.

The more varied our knowledge and experiences are, the more likely we are to be able to create new associations and fresh ideas. Our mind has an incredible ability to cross-pollinate – that is, to connect disparate things to solve problems in unique ways when envisioning new creations. Einstein attributed many of his physics breakthroughs to his violin, which he believed helped him connect ideas in a very different way.

There’s a lesson for all of us in this. Expand your interests in life. Seek new, interesting experiences – no matter how mundane or inconsequential they might seem to others. Read books, watch documentaries and discuss your ideas with others. No subject, no matter how specialized or esoteric, is off-limits. You never know where your imagination will find a way to connect different pieces of a puzzle.

The job of a business leader is to restore the natural curiosity of his or her employees by creating a culture of exploration of new and different approaches to the challenges of any organization In an article by professor Francesca Gino in the October 2018 issue of the Harvard Business Review titled, “The Business Case for Curiosity,” she identifies some dramatic statistics about how corporations view curiosity. “After surveying 3,000 employees from a wide range of firms and industries, only about 24 percent reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis and about 70 percent said they face barriers to asking more questions at work,” Gino wrote. But in fact, ironically, she points out most current research suggests that organizations that put a premium on curiosity by and large produce greater creativity and solutions in solving
organizational problems. She also found that greater curiosity has the byproduct of reducing conflict among employees because they get more curious about learning from each other.

Jeff Young has hardwired curiosity into the culture of Bader Rutter. Here are some of the practices he has encouraged:

  • Create a physical environment that encourages creative interaction among employees through an open layout, multiple teaming spaces and cross-functional teams.
  •  Insist on a process that encourages ideation that can lead to not just a few ideas, but maybe hundreds of new ideas.
  • Tolerate failure, and in fact, encourage it so that employees are not reluctant to come up with the weird, the unusual and the different.
  •  Take a lesson from improvisation and deploy all-staff creative events (Bader Rutter hosts a spring Open Concept Week) to get all employees involved in the process.
  • Get inside the buyer’s journey by studying their behavior to generate new ideas, otherwise known as “ethnographic” research.
  • Encourage data and analytics gathering to verify creative ideas and concepts so they connect to reality. And don’t forget – data can inspire creative ideas, too.

Obviously, an advertising/marketing agency is rewarded for creative breakthroughs for its clients. But whatever industry you’re in you must put creativity at the front of the line to succeed in the world we now live in, which rewards the innovative companies that delight their customers.