Predictions about work in the next 10 years reveal that higher cognitive skills (particularly creative problem solving) will be a key ask. In an age where artificial intelligence and automation pose some risk to technical jobs, it pays to find ways to amplify the human role.

Some companies do this by revamping office design, providing collaborative spaces, and peppering the office with stimuli that boost right-brain activity. But office redesign can be a lengthy, if not expensive process. As a leader or manager, are you looking to jumpstart creative thinking within your teams? Here are some ways to do this:

a) Organize hackathons to spur innovation

Hackathons, usually 1 or 2-day events, are a quick way to foster innovation with some healthy competition. Experts from different fields team up to create prototypes of ground-breaking ideas, which are incentivized with prizes. Since the topic of interest is what glues the teams together, members pool in their talents to brainstorm and discover new solutions to existing problems. Within the short event, organizations get access to a wealth of ideas about new products, services, and solutions that drive value for the company as well as customers.

Since 2015, Ford has been hosting hackathons like the ‘Make It Drivable’ and ‘Hack’ n Sync’ challenges to drive creative thinking among the developer community. These events have churned out products ranging from the ‘Wake me up’ social driving app that prevents drivers from sleeping at the wheel to touchless in-vehicle infotainment systems. Now, Ford is using the concept to steer culture change in the company, with events in the USA, Argentina, Germany, Mexico, and China! According to Ford, implementing lessons from these hackathons has improved engagement by helping its employees across the globe participate, voice ideas, affect change, and use tools that inspire curiosity.

b) Leverage the blue ocean strategy to access new markets

Mark Cuban, American businessman, investor, and entrepreneur on Shark Tank, once said: “Creating opportunities means looking where others are not.” In a way, this summarizes one of the pillars of the blue ocean strategy. Blue ocean offers a creative way to address business problems by looking beyond the competition towards differentiation. It is about innovating from within to find new lines of business, markets, or even target groups.

In the 1990s, the print copier industry was dominated by brands such as Xerox and Epson. Struggling with dwindling sales, Canon used the blue ocean strategy to make a simple shift – targeting actual desktop users instead of corporate purchase managers. The simple change led to product innovation (smaller, handier copiers instead of the bulky ones), opened up a new customer demographic (secretaries and individual users), and increased sales and revenue by helping the company become the first player in a new market. The frameworks within blue ocean strategy contain several creative ways to differentiate one’s brand and reframe existing challenges into future opportunities.

c) Use employee advocacy programs

While product innovation and finding new markets are important, so is meeting targets. Sometimes, achieving this requires out-of-the-box thinking to inspire and motivate employees to be productive.

Take the example of Henkel. Their goals as stated in their sustainability report are to triple environmental value by becoming three times more efficient in areas of energy and water consumption, the circular economy, and optimal supply chains. These are steep targets for a company with a supplier network across 135 countries and nearly 185 manufacturing sites. So, in 2012, Henkel launched its Sustainability Ambassador program to mobilize its 50,000-strong human resource base as champions. The internal program uses targeted eLearning programs to teach employees, customers, and partners about sustainability, its challenges,  and what Henkel is doing to make a difference. Now, Henkel has integrated these lessons within a Responsible Sourcing Policy that honors their green suppliers and sales partners, and provides training, assessments, and audits to encourage sustainable purchasing decisions.

As Albert Einstein says, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” Good luck.

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