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Creative workforce – competing in the new economy

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Having a creative workforce is important to tackle competition in a connected environment. A creative workforce is important because the Internet has given the consumer more choices that can be customized to their own needs. Having the next "big idea" is now not as important as having a "unique idea with a ready pool of consumers."

Thus the topic of creativity in the workplace cannot be detached from the concept of intellectual property, patents and franchising.

Having the skill to use thinking processes is not the same as simply being "intelligent". Edward de Bono has emphasized that a highly intelligent person will take a point of view and then use intelligence to defend it. Conversely, many excellent minds are trapped in poor ideas because they defend them well. It is not possible to be immune to biases or perceptions, but excellent thinkers have control over it.

Here are some tips to harness and cultivate creativity in your own workplace.

Set up the constraints first

The process of generating creative ideas to their eventual execution will be greatly expedited if the participants are given a set of constraints first. These constraints can be in the form of funding, market demand and manpower issues. Nothing kills off the creative process in the workplace when 90 per cent of the ideas are eliminated because the management did not communicate about the constraints to employees earlier.

Failure-tolerant environment

It is important for every team member to have an attitude of supporting and helping people who fail. A good way to do this is to encourage people to share their failures and what they are doing to turn them into success. A related concept is the support of risk-taking. Supporting people in taking risks is all about knowing their capacity to take them and to help them gradually move up their own continuum. What might seem a very low risk to one person might seem a major risk to another person.

"All businesses start out with an idea. The idea may not be very original. The idea may copy exactly what someone else is already doing and aim for a share of the market. The idea has to provide value for the proposed customer. The idea has to be feasible. Finally, the idea has to be profitable. But once a business is up and running then new ideas are seen as a risk. The psychology of risk taking suggests that as soon as there is something to lose then people become very risk averse. Most corporations could double their profits with a good idea. Once a corporation is running effectively, with skilled people', a distribution system and a productive capacity then is the time to welcome new ideas. Problem-solving, efficiency and new idea creation are all very different activities. Only the first two are taken seriously"

- Edward de Bono

Predict the future

Creativity can only dwell in an environment where people like to predict future trends. Management thinkers use terms like "thinking out of the box" and brainstorming to encourage employees to free up their thinking processes. A more practical way of looking at this is that the correct prediction will allow an organization to tap into a new market and create early barriers to entry.

Start a Reward System

All constructive and creative ideas should be rewarded. The reward system will differ between organizations but the motive is still the same; recognition. Management can also utilize the organization's website to highlight these ideas with each participant's e-mail addresses provided. The reason is that other organizations may want to incorporate these ideas and the participant can act as a "goodwill ambassador" to create a possible alliance.

Intellectual Property

According to Robert Merrick of Stand Alone Inventor!, the art of inventing a product is to make it sufficiently novel so that it can enjoy trademark and patent protection. You will not want to create a climate where all your employees' ideas are copied and executed by your competitors. Thus it is important to have a corporate policy where the better ideas are immediately protected through an intellectual property contract drafted out by your legal advisor. This is to ensure that your company's effort in cultivating creativity will not be hijacked once your employee leaves your organization.

Colin Ong TS is the Director of MR=MC Consulting Pte Ltd and the Vice-President (Operations) of the ASEAN Training Network (www.aseantraining.net)

He can be contacted at colin@mrmc.com.sg or by visiting www.mrmc.com.sg