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How to Get Your Creative Ideas Approved in the Workplace

Creativity coach Saundra Alexis Heath provides top tips on the creative life.

Eric Maisel
Creativity Coaches on Creativity
Source: Eric Maisel

Creativity” in a work environment can mean many different, frequently contradictory things. A project manager may want her team to use its creative energies and creative capabilities in the service of getting the project done and getting the product to market as quickly as possible. Individual members of the team, on the other hand, may want to try their hand at something experimental, as that’s what gets their creative juices flowing, or may want to spend time just daydreaming about some innovation or challenging problem.

“Creativity in business” is a complicated matter and rather depends on whose viewpoint is being taken—management’s or that of the creative workers themselves. In today’s post, creativity coach Saundra Alexis Heath explores this theme.

Saundra explained:

Creativity has been cited as a key leadership skill “in a world that is more volatile, more uncertain, and more complex than at any time before,” according to an IBM study of CEOs. Yet plenty of creative employees can attest to how difficult it is to get a creative idea approved and actually implemented. This leads to considerable frustration and a dampening of the creative ideation needed for workplace innovation.

Perhaps you’re someone who has experienced this frustration and would like to figure out how to get your ideas sold. Based on my 30-plus years in organizational leadership and having successfully presented and seen implemented many of my own ideas and the ideas of others, I’ve compiled the following 11 tips:

1. Be clear on the problem your idea solves.

2. Make sure solving this problem is a priority within your chain of command. Presenting ideas for low-priority projects can make you appear disconnected from the main mission and goals of your department.

3. Be able to describe why and how your idea is a solution in one or two sentences. Think elevator speech. You’ll have the chance to get into depth later on if there’s initial interest.

4. Think through potential risk-aversion issues and be prepared to minimize concerns by presenting supporting current trends, any research you or others have done, and case studies and/or competitive analysis, if relevant.

5. Help others visualize your idea by creating a prototype. Think elementary school show-and-tell. Your prototype could be a sketch or 3-D model, a one-page document, or a simple storyboard. It’s helpful if your show-and-tell describes who, what, when, where, and how.

6. Get as much buy-in as you can from those whose work will be affected by this idea. You want to undercover their thoughts on the pros and cons. In this way, you can address them in your presentation and not get blinded-sided.

7. Seek collaboration. Do not get rigidly attached to your idea. Others may add to it and make it better. An idea that everyone feels some ownership in will get greater support faster.

8. Be sure to generously acknowledge anyone who has helped you in any meaningful way. If you engage others and don’t acknowledge their contribution, you are setting yourself up for resentment and potentially worse outcomes.

9. Be prepared to be the lone public champion of your idea, no matter how many have indicated support privately. People like to align with a winner and will reserve their public alliance until it’s clear the idea or project has been greenlighted.

10. Know the approval process and entire approval chain if you can. Get input as to the best way to support those who may have to present your idea.

11. Be sure your idea is being presented at the right time. Perhaps the organization has invested in another solution and has to see that through first. In that case, keep your idea close. You never know when the time might be just perfect for it.

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