This blog post is part of our Truity at Work series for those who are new to people management. In these posts, we’re creating useful content for managers and teams alike, helping you to understand personality, improve communication, and navigate conflict and change with ease. For an overview of the series, start with our introductory post here.
Every team has a different mission and purpose. For some, it's ensuring that dangerous chemicals remain safe by applying standard procedures in line with the latest best practice. For others, it’s releasing a new product into the market every year.
Whatever your team’s purpose, some form of creativity will be required in order to achieve it. As a manager, it is your job to harness and incubate the team’s creativity with strategies and processes that encourage the collective team — and everyone in it — to tackle challenges with great flexibility.
What is creativity?
People have some very fixed ideas about creativity. For some it means inventiveness or creating something entirely new. For others, it refers to works of art and the people who can make them.
In fact, creativity is a process by which something new and valuable is formed. The new thing can be an object, like a book or a sculpture. Or it can be intangible, like a scientific theory, joke or musical composition.
It can also apply to the business processes, products and problem solving that you do everyday.
Invention vs Innovation
Invention is the process of creating something entirely new. Innovation is the process of improving on something that already exists. For example, when it was first launched, the iPhone was an invention, as nothing like it had really existed before (although you could say the same when the telephone was invented). Every update since the iPhone, including the iPads, was an innovation — an improvement built on top of the original invention.
We could describe invention and innovation as creativity with the unknown and the known. And it will come as no surprise that Intuitives (those who have the letter N in their Typefinder four-letter code) are more interested in the challenge of creating with unknown information, while Sensors (those with the letter S in their personality code) are more interested in using their experience to create with known information. Simply, Intuitives invent while Sensors innovate or continuously improve.
For most organizations, neither endless innovation nor a constant focus on invention will lead to excellence. There needs to be a balance between the two.
Fundamentally though, we are all creative and we all have the capacity to be creative and create new things. We just have a very different starting point depending on our personality.
Do you have a team of generalists or specialists?
To improve something based on innovation, you need to know your subject matter deeply. You need to be a specialist to know where the problem areas are, what the latest research or incident reports are telling you, and how the system works overall to know which bits can be tweaked. Specialists use this extensive knowledge to test different alternatives and determine which is going to provide the greatest impact.
Generalists have a range of skills they like to apply to different arenas. Skills in sales, marketing, communication, education and consulting can be applied to a range of industries. Generalists appreciate the challenge of tackling a new problem in an unknown field so they can apply knowledge and insights learned in other areas to new situations.
Are you a generalist or a specialist?
As a manager, you will have a preference for generalism or specialism. If you are a Sensor, you most likely are a specialist. As such, you will prioritize innovation or continuous improvement over invention. If you are an Intuitive, you are more likely to be a generalist and hence prefer to look at each situation as an opportunity to reinvent the wheel.
Your team will notice this preference within you, and try to adapt. This can leave both the specialists and generalists in your team feeling confused and underwhelmed.
Use both skill sets to keep your team moving forward
Once you have identified the generalists and specialists on your team, it can help for them to see the value in each other's approach. One useful exercise is to break your people into separate teams and set both groups the same challenge — to redesign the packaging of one of your products. (Or something more suitable to your industry.)
Give each side an hour to sketch their ideas and present them back to you and the other side, with any requests for additional resources or support they would require. Then have them switch. The generalists take the specialists’ best idea and look at how they could build on it, and visa versa. And again, have everyone present back.
As a whole team, discuss how generalists and specialists could work together and support each other going forward, to ensure the best solutions or products are created.
Creating something new, whether innovation or invention, can be a delicate process. Everyone has a tendency to feel vulnerable when they are suggesting new ways of doing something. We can all fear rejection if the feedback we get is too critical or harsh (no matter how relevant or on-point). This means that people need to feel safe in suggesting new ways of doing things and exploring their ideas.
Often, it’s the process of researching or reviewing a new way of doing something that leads to a breakthrough, so there must be freedom to explore and experiment without fear of judgment. Expect initial suggestions to suck!
As a manager, you can encourage creativity within your staff by first knowing what kind of creative challenge they are looking for (known or unknown) and then encouraging them to experiment with ideas as they arise. That can be as simple as saying “yes, and..” instead of “yes, but…” when someone brings you new ideas.
Simply aim to keep the conversation going instead of shutting it down, which is very easy to do as saying ‘yes’ is much easier than saying ‘no.’
Like what you’re reading? Visit Truity@Work and get instant access to our best-in-class personality tests. You’ll increase productivity, improve understanding and unleash the creativity of your team.