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Stoking Creativity: Why the Right Brain Ignites Success
Mark Donnolo doesn’t believe that thinking “outside of the box” inspires creativity. Creativity often is perceived to be about breaking through boundaries and replacing familiarity with innovation. But saying this to highly effective employees is like offering vegetables to a pack of wolves – it’s the wrong context.
The managing partner of SalesGlobe, which helps companies connect their sales strategies to their bottom lines, says that when you take away your employees’ “box,” which represents tried-and-true processes and technical specs, you inadvertently create a major constraint – not being able to conduct business in a way that is familiar to them.
Rather than promoting new thinking by creating an "outside of the box" environment, Donnolo recommends identifying a company’s creativity need – boosting functional creativity, which has constraints, but is targeted toward an issue or objective, or artistic creativity, which has minimal or no constraints and is targeted toward expression.
Take, for example, the notion of coaching sales reps to think like artists. Using a right-brain approach helps them address the needs of today’s customer. This much we know – when it comes to sales, organizations always are looking for an edge. It’s how they differentiate themselves from their competitors and win deals.
Unfortunately, Donnolo admits that sales organizations too often develop strategies and solutions that repeat the same old practices. That “do-what-has-been-done-before” approach can leave them vulnerable in today’s ultra-competitive business climate. “When it comes to strategies, salespeople usually veer toward one of two extremes – operating analytically or by the seat of their pants,” says Donnolo, who also wrote “The Innovative Sale,” which examines how to integrate the right-brain aptitude for innovation with the left-brain affinity for logic and process.
“As sales organizations develop solutions for their businesses, they certainly have plenty of left-brain models,” Donnolo says. “But these models don’t help us to innovate. Salespeople can build upon their natural intuitive abilities with a right-brain model – a creative process to develop better customer solutions and sales strategies.”
The process begins by defining the specific sales challenge and considering all the current solutions, including what competitors are doing or the way someone used to do it. Once the tried-and-true ideas have been acknowledged, Donnolo says it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and consider unrelated ideas – how problems are solved in other industries, in other cultures, in other periods of history.
“This is the discovery phase, and it’s what most people skip when they go through a typical brainstorming session,” Donnolo says. “Most jump straight to the final stage – application, where tried-and-true ideas usually are plugged in. Every couple of weeks, I get calls from clients asking how companies in their industry implement cross-selling or how they motivate their sales teams. But they don’t really want to know how other companies are doing it. They want to know what to do, because right before they called me, they were grasping for solutions and replicating the status quo.”
The simplest approach to stoking the fires of creativity is to find strategies that take you beyond those “been-there-done-that” approaches. And most times, that process is harder than it has to be.
Mark Montini, CEO of marketing-technology company Promio, believes that creativity simply is approaching something from a unique perspective. Think about it, and you will agree with Montini when he says that there isn’t a person alive who doesn’t see several things daily they would do differently. It can be as simple as how to speed up the line at the local Starbucks or as profound as a new brand position for a large corporation.
“Everyone is creative, every day,” Montini says. “Whether or not you can be creative depends on whether or not you choose to, or if you are empowered to act on those things you would do differently. Everyone has the ability to be creative but being creative is determined by whether or not you act.”
From a leadership perspective, it’s about providing an environment where your employees are empowered to act on their creativity. And that means building a culture that embraces cleverness and the mistakes that come with it.
One of Montini’s friends works for a company that regularly rewards employees who advocated concepts that ultimately failed. In addition to handing out rewards for achievement in various areas, it also presents awards for the best ideas that didn't succeed in the end.
“It really illustrated that the company valued creativity and fully embraced the reality that failure is the primary risk” Montini says. “If you build a culture of fear, you’ll find that the status quo reigns. In my opinion, ‘management/process’ and ‘creativity’ are mutually exclusive. Creativity comes from empowerment and management/process, by definition, is about providing clear direction and control. So, trying to manage creativity requires stifling it.”
Montini believes leaders should cast a vision that provides the framework to make creativity productive. If employees know the company values inventive ideas and is willing to accept the mistakes that result from it, they will feel empowered to be creative. “At the end of the day, creativity from one inspires creativity from others, and the end result are solutions that have tremendous impact.”