'Inspiring Individuals To Be Innovative'

By Amantha Imber

Published on 16-02-2013

innovative leaders

Many leaders recognise the importance of driving innovation within their organisation, however the best way to do this is not always clear. Dr Amantha Imber, founder of innovation and creativity consultancy Inventium, identifies 5 techniques you can employ to inspire your team to be innovative.

1. Make it challenging

No one ever came up with a great idea from being set a really simple task. Creativity does not result from easy, straight-forward tasks, but from challenges. Likewise, when you are so stressed you are tearing your hair out, you also won't come up with great ideas.

As humans, we naturally like to solve challenges and tasks that are difficult and don't have an easy answer, as this provides the chance for our creativity to shine. So instead of setting easy tasks for your team, make sure they feel significantly challenged by the problems and projects you are working on.

2. Give people a sense of progress

Significant research has been undertaken on the impact employee motivation and engagement have on innovation and performance at work. A recent study revealed the majority of managers believe 'recognition for good work' (either public or private) is the most important factor in motivating others, yet this is not the case.

The findings of a recent study led by a prolific innovation researcher, Teresa Amabile, identified "progress" as the key drivers of employee motivation. Their multi-year study tracked the day-to-day activities and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers. The team analysed nearly 12,000 of these diary entries, together with the persons' daily ratings of motivation.

And from this, the feeling of moving forward was noted in 76% of people's best days. The notion of "making progress" was more frequently associated with high motivation, positive emotions, and innovation than any other workday event.

And the good news is that enabling progress is something that is very much within the span of control for ourselves and our managers. Managers can provide goals to enable progress to be made and acknowledged. And as individuals, we can set ourselves small goals to work and progress towards.

3. Provide autonomy

As a manager, it is incredibly tempting to tell your team how to get from A to B when you give them projects to work on. However, this micromanaging approach prohibits innovation. You must resist the temptation to tell people how to solve problems, so they can be motivated to come up with better solutions themselves.

Instead, ensure people are clear on the problem at hand, and then give them room to explore how to tackle it. Many research studies have shown that when people have autonomy and flexibility, they come up with significantly more innovative solutions.

4. Encourage assumption crushing

Whenever you have a problem to solve, there is likely to be numerous assumptions sitting in the back of your head. These relate to things you automatically assume to be true about the problem you are tackling (e.g. we have $X to solve this problem). Unfortunately, these judgements and preconceived ideas effectively put up a fence in your brain that limits your thinking.

To instantly come up with more innovative solutions, identify the assumptions, and then eliminate them by asking yourself, "What if the opposite was true?" By asking this question of every assumption, you will get to some very inventive solutions.

5. Provide clear problems and opportunities for people to solve

This might sound like a bit of an obvious one, but few companies do this well in regard to innovation. Often common practice is "blue sky idea generation" - where people are asked to submit any old idea into a "suggestion box" or idea management system - and in reality this process is unproductive, as you can end up with a stack of ideas that are unrelated to the overall business strategy.

To ensure time spent on innovation and idea generation is constructive, spend some time defining the key problems and opportunities that you want people to innovate around. This will guarantee the ideas you get back will complement the overall business strategy.

Amantha Imber can be contacted at or through