This “Outside Consultant” column by Glenn Karwoski, a member of the adjunct faculty at the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on June 21, 2021.

Like it or not, we’ve been forced to innovate for the past 15 months. It’s forever changed what normal was and we’re still experimenting with what the new version of work is going to look like, which also gives us an opportunity to reevaluate creativity and innovation in our organizations.

The pandemic made us find new solutions to a wide variety of challenges and the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” was never more appropriate. It made us look for solutions in places where we would not usually look and forced us out of our comfort zones within our designated disciplines. It made cross-functional, multi-discipline teams necessary and that’s something we shouldn’t lose during the transition to a post-COVID workplace.

Looking outside your discipline is an excellent way to find creativity and innovate. While it’s easier to rely on the usual people and resources when it comes to brainstorming and idea generation, it can also lead to groupthink and complacency, as well as discounting ideas because we know too much about a specific subject or situation and are less open to new ideas.

For example, Apple product development goes against the standard sequencing of development of passing things along from design to engineering to manufacturing to marketing and then eventually sales. Apple gets everyone in the room from the outset of a project where it gets diverse perspectives and input. It’s a very messy process, which is why most companies use a linear method, but it’s proven to be effective for Apple and others that use the technique.

A large retailer I’ve worked with used a similar approach with representatives from all areas of the company in putting together a big idea team tasked with innovation.

Finding creativity in your organization can be successful if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and look in unfamiliar places.

Keeping creativity alive is also something that usually gets people out of their comfort zones because it’s not a regular practice. More emphasis is placed on doing and producing versus thinking and discovering. That’s a mistake. Once you’ve found new creativity you’ve got to nurture it to keep it alive. Regular formal and informal cross-functional ideation can go a long way to keeping creativity fresh once it’s found.

Glenn Karwoski is a member of the adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

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