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Putting ideas and imagination at the heart of your business

In a now famous lecture on creativity in 1991, the comedian John Cleese talked about the two types of approaches – or "modes" as he put it – to work. They are, in short, open and closed, the latter being the prevailing ideology in most workplaces.

What is meant by closed is the underlying understanding that there is always lots of work to do and, in short, "we have to get on with it if we're going to get through it all". In this mode, we're anxious, purposeful but not creative.

A man in front of a brainstorm chart

With open, the opposite is true. It is "relaxed, expansive, less purposeful", where we're more reflective, playful and under no particular pressure "to get a specific thing done quickly".

Now, interestingly, he argued that the creative mode is not an absolute – it should work in unison with the closed mode because ultimately, both have their virtues. The problem is that historically a perfunctory approach to work has always dominated. As Cleese said: "We too often get stuck in the closed mode."

However, this needn't be the case – you can be a more open enterprise. If businesses are keen on doing more than just continue as they are, then embracing new ways of working is paramount. The key is to put "ideas and imagination" at the heart of your company.

Investing in imagination

The problem with many businesses is that creativity is hard to quantify and trying to put a figure on ingenuity is a difficult. However, while that may be true, it's potentially more of a hindrance. You may well be cost-efficient, but never really knowing how some inspired idea might transform things financially and in terms of innovation.

Albert Einstein put it well when he said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

The secret then is to give people more time than is customarily afforded. This is no easy task, given that many people work above and beyond what they are contracted to do, but a thorough audit and a SWOT analysis should go a long way in making it possible.

How to make this happen

There are many ways of encouraging more imagination in the workplace that can, for the peace of mind of executives, balance the need to be financially viable and encourage your workforce to be more creative. You really can have a win-win situation.

The interplay between technology and processes is one of the biggest trends in cultivating a dynamic atmosphere, and accordingly should be your starting point when fostering an environment where creative ideas are encouraged, without impeding on the day-to-day requirements workers have.

For example, embracing Wi-Fi, implementing a bring your own device policy, redecorating your office and investing in headsets, all taken as a whole, will allow organisations to be less prescriptive in how they go about organising the way in which they work. Everyone is freed up to do what they're paid to do but without feeling constrained.

Consider this scenario from the past – you've sat waiting at your desk to take a call and lose a handful of hours of productivity because, for whatever reason, a call doesn't come through. Now, cordless headsets, in conjunction with unified communications, means you can still be on hand to take a call but also, in the interim, be free to be creative.

Groundbreaking insight may often seem to appear from out of nowhere, but there are common features. They include time, trial and error and collaboration.

They don't need to appear together, but, it is fair to say that in an organisation that makes it possible for its employees to reflect without having to necessarily – and immediately – achieve something, test various ideas out – again without there being a definable result – and work together more often than not, quality ideas and imagination is going to be part and parcel of the way you do things.

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