For decades, business leaders have spoken loudly and often about the need for innovation and creative thinking. Yet the American workplace is arguably toxic to many of these concepts, filled with norms that reward conformity.
Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, Wharton’s top-rated professor, and host of WorkLife, a TED original podcast, says there is no shortage of good ideas at most companies. But there is often a shortage of action.
“We all have ideas for improving the world around us,” Grant says. “I think we have a lack of people who know how to champion their original ideas.”
Leaders in workplace creativity allow employees to pursue ideas and make it safe to try new concepts. But, before the experiments can begin, you must first sell your idea.
No matter how brilliant, you will always face a certain amount of resistance, or organizational inertia. Tips from these six TED Talks will remind you of the skills you need to overcome the opposition to put forth your next great concept.
1. Find your bravery.
Reshma Saujani knows that innovation is needed in order to see movement forward — for businesses and even economies to grow. But putting forth ideas requires an immense amount of bravery. Especially when you're trying to shake up the status quo.
In Saujani's TED Talk, "Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection," she talks about the bravery deficit, and how it specifically impacts women and girls. The message inspired a bestselling book, and a global bravery movement.
As she writes in her book, Brave Not Perfect, bravery is a muscle that needs constant flexing. That means, taking on things you might not be good at — or sharing an idea that scares you, being willing to test it, and also potentially seeing it fail.
Saujani encourages listeners to make bolder choices in their own lives, and to share the results with others — both the good and bad. We must break the cult of perfection, she believes.
2. Be prepared to face scrutiny.
One of the biggest hurdles we face in putting forth new ideas is the stress and anticipation of potential scrutiny — and deciding to go through with it anyway. This can be particularly challenging when you're introducing a fresh concept to a group of people with whom you might not be so familiar.
It's easy for your outside ideas to be looked at as just that — outsider (read: uninformed, misguided). It's also easy to believe someone else is wrong for not believing in your idea.
Sally Kohn talks about the "scale of prejudice" in her TED Talk, "The Culture of Hate." At the extreme end are things like genocide and bias-motivated violence. At the other end are things common in your day-to-day, "Like believing that your in-group is inherently superior to some out-group," says Kohn.
Bullies are real — even in adulthood, and at the office. But that shouldn't stop us from speaking up when we see an opportunity. The best thing we can do is work to challenge our own ideas and assumptions, says Kohn, and relate with generosity and open-mindedness. It's how we get better, and make our ideas stronger.
3. Own your misfit mentality.
Amidst any skepticism, Adam Grant would tell you to keep pressing on. After all, he believes, the truly original thinkers are nonconformists. "They are people who stand out and speak up," Grant says in his TED Talk, "The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers."
So, when the odds are against you, don't count yourself out. If your big idea doesn't make waves, or even see the light of day, know that you're still making progress towards your ultimate goal: creating change.
"Motivate yourself by doubting your ideas and embracing the fear of failing," says Grant. As he outlines in his talk, the greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they are the ones who try the most. "You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get to a few good ones," he adds.
To leaders, Grant says, don't be so quick to write off these non-conformists. "Originals drive creativity and change in the world," he adds. "They're the people you want to bet on."
4. But, remember, you're still human.
- CEO and business thinker Margaret Heffernan, knows that your intrinsically human traits are what make innovation possible. Especially in a world rife with transformation.
- So while we stare down insecurity, judgment, and feeling like an eternal misfit, remember that it's all part of our uniquely human skillset and messy unpredictability. Things that Heffernan says are tremendously needed when facing an unknown future.
- In her newest TED Talk, "The Human Skills We Need in an Unpredictable World," she explains one of today's new norms and most crucial issues: the ability to deal with the unexpected.
- "Preparedness, coalition-building, imagination, experiments, bravery — in an unpredictable age, these are tremendous sources of resilience and strength," she says. "They aren't efficient, but they give us limitless capacity for adaptation, variation, and invention."
- Not all experiments will work, she adds, but they're often the only way to figure out how the real world works.
5. Build (and rebuild) trust.
Another barrier to innovation, many times, is trust. If you don't feel like you have it, it's harder to feel confident about your ideas and be willing to share them, not to mention safe taking risks.
Frances Frei understands this better than most. In her TED Talk, "How to Build (and Rebuild) Trust," she gives an eye-opening crash course in trust: how to build it, maintain it, and rebuild it — something she worked on during a consulting stint at Uber.
In the talk, she shares three clear tips. First, she says, listen to the people in front of you and deeply immerse yourself in their perspectives. Second, get to your point quickly, in a crisp half-sentence, and then provide your supporting evidence. This gives people fast access to your awesome ideas, Frei says, before you get cut off.
Finally, she says, be your authentic self. "Pay less attention to what you think people want to hear from you and far more attention to what your authentic, awesome self needs to say."
6. Put joy at the top of your task list.
- Bottom line: It's easy to stifle our own ideas, and forget to enjoy our creativity. It doesn't help that most of our environments and communities aren't set up to spark inspiration or the joy it takes to fuel ingenuity.
- As Ingrid Fettel Lee puts it in her TED Talk, "Where Joy Hides and Where to Find It," the physical world can be a powerful resource to us. Yet, our workplaces tend to feel chaotic, stuffy, and stale.
“We all start out joyful, but as we get older, being colorful or exuberant opens us up to judgment," she says. "Adults who exhibit genuine joy are often dismissed as childish or too feminine or unserious or self-indulgent, and so we hold ourselves back from joy, and we end up in a world that looks like this."
To counter any stifling, Fettel Lee says we need to embrace the things that give us joy and find ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often. So, if you're tasked with driving innovation or simply full of big ideas, don't forget to put joy at the top of your task list, so that your imagination can reap the benefits.
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Anna Jasinski was a content marketing strategist at WSB. Prior to her time here, she was a content consultant for Fortune 500 brands, and a magazine journalist. When she's not busy writing and creating, you can find her hanging out with her two new puppies.