Real life is… a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity.”
– Bertrand Russell
Most organizations have barriers to creativity, ideas, and innovation. Some are obvious while some are more subtle. Some barriers emerge from attitudes and perceptions of organizational leadership while others come from organizational structure or even from the employees themselves. Since these barriers have a tendency to eliminate creative possibilities from the organization, identifying and removing barriers to creativity and innovation is crucial. By pinpointing, recognizing, and acknowledging that barriers exist, an organization can bypass many common obstacles and become more idea-oriented by employing simple strategies.
Common Workplace Barriers
- Cause: Resistance to new ideas and processes happens because it’s human nature to become uncomfortable when confronting potential change agents. Management and leadership tend to resist because creativity often means embracing uncertainty and may pose possible difficulties in measuring returns on investment.
- Effect: Old habits, beliefs, and assumptions cloud openness to new ideas and overpower creative and innovative initiatives. The status quo remains in place and nothing changes.
- Strategy: Share stories about creativity and innovation in a workplace setting through all available channels to put creativity into context and to dispel preconceived notions about creativity and innovation. Build an Idea Library to provide resources that make creativity more familiar. Pinpoint and communicate the benefits of adopting new ideas, for both the organization as well as for the employees, to help gain acceptance.
- Cause: Fear of a new idea is often manifested as criticism and sometimes harsh judgment. People mock and ridicule what they don’t understand.
- Effect: Employees who have ideas are reluctant to share because they worry that no one will like the idea. They are afraid of ridicule or the implications of possible failure.
- Strategy: Adopt a no-ridicule ideology within the organization. Invite and encourage all employees, from all levels and departments, to become involved with innovative initiatives. Communicate failure and missteps as a necessary stepping stone to new approaches, products, and services.
Playing by the Rules
- Cause: Policies and procedures, inflexible and rigid organizational structures, traditions, and a culture of playing by the rules, are keeping employees from participating, stifling any innovative or creative processes.
- Effect: An oppressive environment has a tendency to force employees to conform to accepted patterns, rules, and inherent limitations of the status quo. This hampers creative thinking and new ideas.
- Strategy: Although some rules are necessary, many can suppress innovation and ideas. Consider if some of the rules can be relaxed, changed, updated, or eliminated to make allowances for the idea process to flourish.
- Cause: Bringing ideas from development to implementation often takes a lot of effort or time to produce results. Most organizations and employees don’t want to devote the necessary time or effort to complete a creative project.
- Effect: Negativity takes hold even before beginning a project or a project is eliminated before it even gets up and running. Lack of faith in the possible payoffs of a creative process can easily stymie or eliminate what might have been the next big idea.
- Strategy: Going beyond the known, stock answers and allowing some time to discover more than one answer takes effort. Encourage employees by making it a competition or breaking larger initiatives into smaller, more manageable pieces.
- Cause: Employees have ideas and want to share them but all they see is a dusty suggestion box. No other channels to input ideas are known by members to exist.
- Effect: Past organizational experience shows employees that ideas put in the suggestion box disappear into a black hole so employees don’t bother to submit anything. They may feel there is no reason to get involved.
- Strategy: Make it easy for employees to input ideas through a variety of different channels and technologies to encourage inputs. Have leadership acknowledge and celebrate the value of ideas even if they can’t be utilized. If an idea works, develop it.
- Cause: Within an organization, creativity can be misunderstood by employees who are not creative in their work processes. Sometimes management will have little knowledge of the type of work it takes to produce creative projects.
- Effect: An inaccurate impression of what is creative can result in workplace conflicts that hinder productivity and creativity, or even create an unpleasant or impractical work environment for some employees.
- Strategy: Supply opportunities for all employees to use their creative side. Provide a context for ideas and innovation within the organization with creative examples. Offer training opportunities for employees to become more comfortable with their creative side.
The effects of barriers within an organization can range from the most subtle undermining of possible changes to out-and-out misinterpretation of creativity. Whatever the barrier, it can cripple idea and innovation processes. Not only can barriers stop employees from becoming involved but they can keep the organization as a whole from moving forward.
For those reasons, it’s crucial to identify creative barriers with the understanding it’s natural for organizations and employees to resist change. Through a conscious effort to move past creative roadblocks, an organization can embrace new depths of creativity and overcome these barriers. The result is an organization that is more innovative, creative, and idea-oriented.