Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thinking Time

Dave and I recently had a conversation about creativity, and the environment that helps each of us generate new ideas, build on existing thoughts, and strategize for the future. That conversation reminded me of an article I read in the newspaper about a local company called ReadyTalk.

It seems ReadyTalk, a Denver area provider of audio conferencing and webinar services, has taken innovative steps to spark creativity in their workers. ReadyTalk gives its engineers one “free” day a week. Employees spend this day learning, experimenting, thinking, visioning, etc… Basically, they spend 8 hours each week focusing on passions, interests, and side projects, rather than their usual day to day tasks.

Apparently this concept, often referred to as a “labs” structure, is not new and has been implemented by several high-tech companies responsible for some of today’s most well-known, leading-edge innovations. While it may seem difficult, if not impossible, to take employees away from their billable tasks for an entire day, investing that 8 hours of overhead is a strategic move that can generate greater productivity and profitability for your organization now and in the future.

This long-term strategy allows employees to vary their routine, keeping their minds fresh and energized. It gives employees the space to be creative and to follow through on innovative ideas. Often this "lab" time leads to improved processes and procedures, increased efficiency, new solutions to existing problems, and ideas for new products and services. 

Providing the right environment to jumpstart your employees’ creativity not only benefits their current billable tasks, but can also position your company for future success. And “lab” days are just one idea for creating this kind of environment. Other ideas for inspiring employee creativity include:

Identifying brainstorming partners – Two brains are always better than one. If the company encourages employees to spend time collaborating with each other, people are more likely to request and receive useful and insightful technical feedback.

Creating mastermind groups – Like brainstorming, the purpose of a mastermind group is to harness the power of multiple minds. Hearing thoughts and gathering ideas from a diverse group gives you the added benefit of multiple perspectives.

Offering cross-training sessions – Being too close to a problem can sometimes mask the easiest, most obvious solutions. If you teach employees enough about other aspects of a project or about company operations, they often bring fresh, new ideas to the table.

Providing time and resources for reading – Reading often leads to those key “ah-ha” moments. Reading leads to thinking and ultimately to problem solving. Whether these are solutions to today’s problems or solutions for the future, your organization will reap the benefits.

We’d love to hear what you, as a leader, and your company do to ensure that your employees have the time and space they need to refocus their attention and jumpstart their creativity.

Thanks for reading,

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

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