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Harnessing Creativity and Innovation
in the Workplace

A Q&A with Chris Grivas

Chris Grivas is the president of Chris Grivas Consulting, a global consultancy headquartered in Seattle, which focuses on increasing the creative capacity of individuals, teams and organizations. He is also the lead author of The Innovative Team, a business fable that explores how teams can produce breakthrough results despite members’ varied creative styles. Chris Grivas spoke with CW Bulletin Managing Editor Amanda Aiello Beck about different types of creativity and why it’s important for organizations to foster creativity in the workplace.

Amanda Aiello Beck: Why is it important for an organization to foster innovation? What benefits does it bring?
Chris Grivas: It’s hard for me to imagine a successful organization that does not try to cultivate innovation in its employees and, as important, its culture. In fact, a recent study by IBM of over 1,500 CEOs worldwide found that innovation and creativity were the most desired leadership skills for the 21st century. Why? Because these CEOs recognized that the ability to be a flexible thinker in a time of constant change is essential for both adapting to widespread rapid change and keeping a step ahead of the marketplace. An organization without flexible, fluid thinking is destined for mediocrity.

AAB: In your book you mention four styles of creative thinking. Could you provide a brief explanation of each?
Our research has shown that there are four ways people tend to think when applying their creativity to a problem at hand. We all have the tendency to gravitate toward one or more of these types of thinking. In fact, we may even avoid the others. When you look at these short descriptions, it’s important to remember that everyone has different thinking preferences and none of them is better than another. All of these types of thinking have their advantages and drawbacks if used alone. Many of us combine more than one preference, while others may have no clear preference. Either way, how you approach a problem creates some very interesting implications, especially when working with others who have different preferences. That’s why my co-author and I wrote the book—to show people how different creative styles can affect group dynamics.

The four creative thinking styles are:

Clarifiers: These are people who like to explore the data, the history, and the background of a situation. They like to see it from many angles and understand it as completely as they can before deciding on the most interesting or advantageous way of tackling the problem. They ask a lot of questions, seek to get a solid picture of the situation at hand before moving on.

Ideators: These people are comfortable exploring possibilities. They like to generate a lot of potential solutions—diverge as much as possible. They explore alternatives to the alternative, constantly seeking that newest direction or idea that could yield the biggest impact on a problem. These are the people who we might say like to “think outside the box,” except that they never see a box to begin with.

Developers: These people like to take an idea and work at perfecting it. They like to tinker with and break the idea, build it back up and make it stronger. They are working at creating an idea that is as strong as possible. These are the folks we might say like to “think inside the box,” because they need parameters to work within. If they know the rules and context of a situation, they can build an idea to work well within those parameters.

Implementers: These are the people who like to make things happen. They like to put solutions into action and see results. They live where the rubber meets the road, where actions have tangible results. They are action-oriented and have a tendency to push to make things happen. They apply their creative thinking toward getting the job done.

AAB: Do you think the process of innovation is influenced more by having a good team or a good leader? Or both?
Both, no doubt. That said, even the best team can have lackluster results without a good leader. A good leader of an innovative team is one that understands both the creative process itself and how the people on the team think within that process. He or she is able to then leverage the strengths of the team effectively as well as recognize when the team is spinning its wheels and when to intervene. Leadership often means knowing how to kick start the team when it’s stuck or spending too much time on one stage of the process.
A good team is one that is aware of its own thinking tendencies, is skilled in the creative process itself, and, if experienced enough, can also manage itself if without a facilitative leader. This is by far more difficult, but with practice, guidance and time a team can learn to effectively police itself in terms of process if members build in time to reflect on how they are using the creative process, what worked well and what did not, and what they can do better next time.

AAB: What about employees who say they are just not creative? How do you inspire them to become creative?
People who say they are not creative just haven’t recognized their inherent creativity. Perhaps it hasn’t been recognized or valued by others or perhaps they have even discounted its value. Being creative is one of those things that make us all human. A common misconception is that creativity is purely genetic. While it’s true we can inherit creative tendencies from our parents, what we have found is that creative thinking can be taught and, with practice, improved greatly. Anyone can enhance their creativity by learning the creative process and reflecting on how they tend to approach solving problems or creating something new.

One of the many creative tools we demonstrate in the book is called “Phrasing Problems as Questions.” This is the way it works: Instead of stating a problem negatively, as an insurmountable obstacle or ticking time bomb—like proclaiming, “Sales are tanking. We’ve got to do something about it”—try rephrasing that problem as a specific, goal-oriented question. For example, “How can we find new ways to appeal to clients’ needs?”

This simple change in language makes an enormous difference. The first statement is one that complains, limits thinking and causes stress. The second focuses on a specific aspect of the problem that can be addressed and invites solutions.

So that is the tip I’ll leave you with. If you want more creative thinking within your organization, invite solutions. Have the problem clearly stated and warm up to possibilities. Innovative teams explore relentlessly.