Generating creative ideas in the workplace:
Somjai is stressed while she walks to HR Department with an annual performance appraisal form issued by her Department Manager in her hands. She is wondering why she gets only 1 out of the full score of 5 in creativity and ability to solve customers’ problems. Somjai does not dare to talk openly with her Manager or to ask the Manager what he means by this assessment. She thinks that she has expressed her opinions with the team as necessary and tried to do the tasks assigned to her. Her score should not be this low. What is even worse is that the Manager indicates that some of her attitudes negatively affect the team. Does the Manager have any bias against her? HR Department suggests her to do a review over the past year to see if there is any one time that she refuses to do a task assigned to her, avoids problems, avoids the customers, does not express opinions on the problems arising, does not give her supervisor any explanation, does not propose a solution to the customer’s problem, or thinks from the beginning that there is nothing she can do to make things better. Somjai admits that there are many times when she runs away from her customers, disagrees with her team members, does not express any opinions in meetings during which all attendees try to give ideas and recommendations to solve problems caused to her own customers. When she is asked by HR to tell what happened, Somjai tells many stories. HR concludes what causes Somjai to get only 1 point, which means that she needs to make an immediate improvement. Her attitudes are the important reason. She has negative attitudes, which do not promote creativity.
- “It’s not practical!” attitude: Somjai thinks from the beginning that this is a problem and that is a problem as well. Then, her reaction is that she does not solve the problem or even report it to her supervisor. She makes the problem even bigger and more difficult or too late to solve because she does not prepare herself emotionally and physically to deal with the situation. Somjai does not take a problem as an opportunity. A happy worker will welcome every problem coming to his way or even go out to face or challenge a problem with a hope to get an opportunity to improve his capability. Every problem arising will allow you to: (1) see the difference between what you have and what you need; (2) realize that there could be something better than the current situation; and (3) have an opportunity to solve the problem. Sometimes, the problem could be serious and urgent. If you can solve it, you will have more confidence and happiness because you realize that you can control your life if only you make a move.
- “It’s impossible!” attitude: Somjai admitted that she had such an attitude, which was like giving up from the very beginning. She thought that when it was problem, it would not be solvable. Actually, every problem arising can strengthen you in a way that sometimes you may not expect it. If you tell yourself from the beginning that it is impossible, that idea will become a big obstacle blocking you from thinking of a solution. Nobody would ever expect that we could fly to the moon. When a problem arises, you need to believe that, “if a problem is difficult, I have to start immediately. If it is too difficult, it may take longer time to solve.”
- “I can’t do it!” attitude: When her customer refuses to pay, Somjai thinks that the Finance Department should talk to the customer. She believes that she cannot go and talk to the customer by herself because she has no power to negotiate. A problem like this must be solved by an expert or experienced person only. She thinks that the one to solve the problem could not be “her” because she is “not good”, “not smart,” “not a debt collector,” or that she did not study debt collection in school. Actually, she may be able to solve the problem on her own if she tries to figure out what the case of the problem is, or why the customer fails to make payment, and what she can do to solve such problem. However, Somjai does not think so, but she believes that she just can’t do it and no matter what the customer will not pay. As a result, the problem is not solved. She does not think that if something is done, the situation may be better.
- “But, I’m not a creative person!”: Everyone is creative in their own way. However, some people do not use their creativity or may feel that if they say something, their colleagues will laugh at them. You don’t have to be afraid to be laughed at because your idea may be extended by your colleagues. As for Somjai, during the meetings, her colleagues can barely hear any of her ideas.
- “It could be a failure!”: There are many times when you have to try new ideas and methods to find out which one is the most suitable for a certain situation. It’s not just you who have to try something again and again. Thomas Alva Edison tested over 1,800 materials and did more than 1,000 attempts before he was successful in inventing a light bulb. He got frustrated when people asked him why he did not succeed, but he never gave up. He just told those people that, “I have learned that many things I have used do not work.”
Somjai is afraid of failure and to express opinions that are different from her colleagues’. Her fear obstructs her creativity and affects her cognitive development as well as her team because the only thing that will lead the team to success is the determination to be successful together.
HR tells Somjai to find her creative ideas arising from positive attitudes. She is advised to begin with reading more books and taking note of her progress.
- Somjai is told to believe that there is a solution to every problem. Problem solving may take some time and certain effort, but it is possible. If there are many things to do, prioritize them correctly. Somjai promises that she will start to solve problems on her own, not run away from the problems or let them get worse, and ask for other people’s opinions all the time.
- Be brave to accept the team’s decision if your idea is not chosen and to accept criticisms of our team members. There are times when good ideas are not chosen because maybe your team members are not familiar with them or think that they are too strange to be practical or not achievable. However, it is important that you are open to your team members’ criticisms. Somjai told HR that she proposed an idea once, but it did not seem okay. She got angry when her team members criticized her idea so she never proposed any idea again after that.
- Be curious. A creative person is usually curious about various things. If only Somjai wants to know the reason for each decision of her supervisor and colleagues, what causes the problems, how to solve the problems, what the truth is, why it is what it is, what will happen next, why they didn’t try another method, why that method did not fit a particular customer, or why another method could apply to this customer, she would have many creative ideas. Somjai says that she is afraid to ask questions, but from now on she will try to ask more questions.
- Challenging ideas: Some ideas proposed may be contrary to the general belief. Team members may propose a solution that is challenging or poses risk to the business. Sometimes, when such solution is proposed to the customer, it turns out that it works. Although as a whole, Somjai may not be a challenging person, HR asks her to think out of the box and try new ideas.
Many times, new ideas can be used to solve problems. Some ideas proposed may sound unfamiliar and be laughed at, but many unconventional ideas are accepted and put into practice.
If Somjai takes time to think about the situations she has been into and revise her thinking, or see an obstacle as an opportunity, she may be brave enough to express her ideas, accept criticisms, and turn into new Somjai who has many new ideas to share with her team from now on, her annual performance appraisal score would definitely improve.