The leadership paradigms of the past did not leave much room for new ideas. Many workers were advised to keep their heads down and simply continue to endure. Fortunately, this kind of thinking is quickly becoming obsolete. People have so much more to offer in an environment where creativity and innovation are encouraged and supported.
The take of a leading HR practitioner on collaboration and creativity
While filming , I was fortunate to have a chat with Misti Melville, Global Director of Human Resources for the engineering design consultancy BuroHappold. Ms. Melville was happy to share her insights on how her organisation is able to recruit top talent and provide the complex designs and solutions that their clients request.
To get to a high level of innovation, people have to collaborate together.
At BuroHappold, we believe wholeheartedly in embracing technology to ensure our people are able to collaborate across the globe with clients and with each other. To keep innovation fresh and new, we utilise global design boards, strategy communities and computational collectives to spring the shackles, unlocking greater insights into the transformation of client businesses, and the enhancements of our people’s performance and well-being.
How can organisations take advantage of such approaches to reach out to find new, eager, talented individuals while still supporting and encouraging their existing talent? The key is to create an environment, not only tailored to the current business but also to the culture to which you aspire, that allows for effective collaboration, open communication, creativity, and innovation.
The coffeehouse example and how ideas can spread
Author Steven Johnson spoke at TEDGlobal 2010 about his book, Where Good Ideas Come From (2011). He began his talk with a picture of the Grand Café in Oxford, opened in 1650. The idea of a coffeehouse or a place where everyone, from all walks of life, could mingle and meet over coffee or tea played a significant role in the Enlightenment, according to Johnson.
Once people shifted from drinking alcohol all day (which, in fairness, had something to do with the poor water quality at the time), to milder beverages like tea and coffee, the dialogue began to open up. People weren’t belligerently drunk all day but were instead eager to share ideas and thoughts. This kind of environment led to a time of great creativity and growth, and we still see examples in modern times.
New ideas are a network, literally, in your brain
When you have that lightbulb or an ‘A-HA’ moment, new networks of neurons are firing in your brain. A new network is born! Getting your brain into a state that allows for more of these lightbulb moments for most of us requires the right atmosphere but once achieved continues to allow for the growth of new ideas, and in turn, new networks.
The networks in real life tend to mimic what goes on in our brains. Think about the Internet for a second. The vast network began with a single A-HA moment and has subsequently metamorphosized into what we have today. You can achieve the same sort of development in a positive way for your brain!
How you can create a culture where innovation and collaboration are valued and respected
I’ve seen that to create the right environment for your business, leaders have to ‘walk the walk.’ Big words and complex ideas won’t get much accomplished if you don’t simplify the message and model the results you expect. Leaders also need patience and resilience because these changes take time. We need to take small steps, pilot new concepts and initiatives, keep adjusting, and you will see results. If positive results don’t follow, then I think it is important to acknowledge it wasn’t right, learn from the experience, and move on. On the other hand, what can seem like a relatively small result can snowball into something truly great.
I keep reminding myself that it has to start with me! You can hardly expect others to want to share ideas if you don’t set the right tone. Give people a chance to bounce ideas off your own thoughts, and try not to become defensive or let them feel like their idea is being rejected out of hand. Some of your team may already have a hard time opening up to someone in a leadership role, and you don’t want to discourage them or scare them away.
And keep the innovation going. Whether you encourage something like global strategy communities or if you have something more local, the idea is for you to facilitate the collaborative process. People will inevitably disagree – debate is healthy and shapes creativity, and likewise part of the leader’s job is to smooth feathers while still being open and supportive of diverse ideas.
Bring the right kinds of brains together. True innovation so often comes from an inclusive approach which embraces diversity of thinking - a mix of new talent and the more experienced, different genders, ethnic backgrounds and so on. You need a mix of people who think logically, but also those who throw caution to the wind and think entirely out of the box. Compassionate, enthusiastic, empathetic leaders will attract people who have the passion & imagination to lead your organisation to new heights.
As times change, leadership roles also must adapt. Leaders, particularly in professional services, are expected to not only perform the technical skills needed to lead, but they are also there to inspire and shape creativity. We have come a long way since the turbulently creative times in 17th century aromatic coffee houses, but that passionate and open spirit is still the key to transformational leadership.
Misti Melville FEATURED IN ‘MAKE ME A LEADER’
Make Me A Leader is a feature-length documentary on how leaders can optimise brain and body performance to thrive in the 21st Century.
Watch my interview with Misti Melville, Global Human Resources Director, BuroHappold Engineering, London, UK.
TED talk by Steven Johnson: