Inspiring innovation

4 min read
Jennifer Aldrich
  •  Nov 25, 2015
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Especially in industry conversations, we talk about innovation all the time—to the point where it has almost become a buzzword. It’s rare that someone explains how exactly you and your team can be more innovative.

So how do you spur true, honest-to-goodness creativity and innovative thinking at your organization?

Hire an inspiring leader

So many organizations completely miss this step.

Strong leaders cultivate innovation.Twitter Logo This person needs to think outside the box—and encourage others to do the same. Great designers don’t always make for inspiring leaders. To cultivate a creative, innovative design team, a strong leader who lives by example is key.

Don’t hire jerks

Some companies put skill and experience before culture, and when you’re dealing with a design team, that’s a huge mistake. If you can find an applicant who has some natural skill, and who’s passionate about design, that person will immediately absorb and begin to exude the creative energy in your team.

“Strong leaders cultivate innovation.”

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Applicants with lots of experience but zero passion will suck every ounce of creativity out of your team. One bad attitude can destroy a positive team culture in a snap.

You’ve likely experienced this at some point in your career. You have a great team with an awesome dynamic and a great culture, and then you hire someone who turns out to be a downer. You go from looking forward to work each day, to dreading having to collaborate with that person. Negative personalities bring down design teams.

“Don’t hire strictly based on experience and portfolio power.”

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Don’t hire strictly based on experience and portfolio powerTwitter Logo and instead give a hard look to the personality fit. At my previous company, our entire design team interviewed potential candidates and then performed a Can Fit Will evaluation afterward.

  • Can this person do the job?
  • Is this person going to be a good fit with our team culture?
  • Will this person be self motivated and open to constantly learning new things?

We found that answering these 3 questions helped us find solid candidates.

The innovative design team at DocuSign. Photo by Peter Prato.

Foster a cohesive team environment

Your team doesn’t need to be best friends outside of work, but make sure that you’re fostering a solid team environment in the workplace.

Some companies make the mistake of trying to do team bonding exercises outside of working hours, which often leads to frustration because work is taking away from employees’ personal/family time.

Do team-building activities and events during the workday, not after hours.Twitter Logo Don’t think you have time? Make time. Schedule a team-building day each month—go out to eat, go bowling, or go watch a tech-themed movie as a team. There are tons of ways to foster a tight-knit team dynamic, and that dynamic helps unlock your team’s creative and innovative potential.

“Do team-building activities and events during the workday, not after hours.”

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Make learning and professional growth part of the job

My previous employer made it clear that active learning and pushing myself to grow professionally was part of my job. During work hours, I could set aside time to scour blogs, listen to podcasts, read design books, take online courses to learn new design skills that interested me, and even blog about design trends I uncovered.

My teammates and I had a budget to attend a major design conference each year, too. Spending time among other creatives is a great way to spark creativity and innovative thinking.

The crowd at InVision’s Design + Venture event earlier this year.

Obviously these activities can’t be the only thing you do all day every day, but setting aside time to focus on creativity during working hours is like recharging your creative battery. Your designs will benefit as a result.

Create a creative work space

You don’t have to have a slide in the middle of the office to make a creative design environment.

In my last design space we weren’t able to paint the walls, so we covered them in awesome posters, beautiful prints, and design inspiration quotes. If your company doesn’t allow nails and pins in the wall, grab some Command Strips and go to town.

“Fostering positive design team culture is a win for the entire company.”

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I can’t guarantee that taking these steps will make your team more innovative and creative, but I’ve seen this plan in action and the change in team dynamic was overwhelmingly positive. And we saw a huge increase in productivity and product innovation.

In case you have a tough time selling these concepts, I should probably also mention that our designs also went from good to great, and as a result there was also an increase in client retention as well as new revenue. Fostering positive design team culture is a win for the entire company.Twitter Logo

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