Business leaders worldwide are recognising that releasing the inherent creative potential in people has tangible business rewards. During the development of the “Leading in a VUCA world” series, we asked Meyer Conradie to share the simple, but effective, ways he encourages creative problem-solving in his team.
Meyer Conradie is the co-founder and CEO of Mosaic, an organisation implementing self-sustainable care for orphaned and vulnerable children. They have operations in the North West, Western Cape and Eastern Cape, and their model includes housing, educating and employing families who are caring for orphans in the townships of South Africa.
I lead a ministry that focuses on helping orphaned and vulnerable children in South Africa. We work on the forefront of a seemingly insurmountable crisis, with scarce resources and often inadequate solutions, so the subject of creativity is dear to my heart. From the onset of our journey, we have had no choice but to be inventive – to use what was in our hands to unlock the next unexpected solution. God has done magnificent things and yet, ten years down the road, the need for creative thinking is as critical as ever.
I certainly don’t have all the solutions, but I have learned a few things along the way about creativity, and how it helps people to flourish. Here are a few thoughts for you to consider, which can helpfully aid your own learning journey.
1. Be open to learn
When my wife and I started Mosaic we brought nothing other than passion and a brazen naivety to the table. Both of us lacked experience in the field of orphan and vulnerable child care, and this forced us to navigate those early years with a great sense of humility and unbiased curiosity. There was an advantage to being the least knowledgeable in the room – we were not afraid to ask questions and being open to learn.
As we saw the pivotal role that grannies and mothers played in the community, we changed our original approach – from one of ‘village-based’ living (living in an architected community outside the township) to family-based care within the local community. Today we have a model that ensures children are raised in a family setup, loved and parented, with enough resources and opportunities to thrive. It’s been a journey of adapting and unlearning as we go, but one that we have committed to be on, indefinitely.
2. Say ‘no’
The quickest way to blunt your creative edge is just to keep saying ‘yes’ to everything. Just because something is a good idea, doesn’t mean you should be doing it. As Steve Jobs said, “Innovation is saying ‘no’ to a thousand things. You have to pick carefully.” Say ‘yes’ to your calling and core business, by saying ‘no’ to a hundred other good ideas that compete for your attention.
3. Celebrate your differences
Creativity flourishes in an environment where diversity is celebrated. When we can facilitate a space that champions our differences, we unlock a magical sort of synergy and set a powerful momentum of shared purpose into motion. It takes deliberate effort to move from a place of merely tolerating our differences to celebrating our distinctions and divergent views.
It means that, as leaders, we make a concerted effort to build away from ourselves and hire people whose skillsets and viewpoints are both complementary and opposing. As tempting as it is to surround myself with fellow creatives, I need the Excel masters, those lovers of administrative systems, to keep me in check. They build the structures to scaffold and channel the flow of creativity.
4. Choose to walk into difficult situations
Isaac Newton once said, “No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess”. His point was that creativity can be life-changing, but it’s rarely safe. If you want to develop an appetite for innovation, you have to be willing to take risks. All too often, we pull the handbrake on potential business deals or partnerships because of our own sense of inadequacy. In doing so, we rob our organisations of amazing opportunities or innovations that could have emerged, had we stepped into that uncharted space.
Some years ago we learned this lesson ourselves, while looking for a software platform to evaluate the long-term measurable impact of our work in the lives of the children we work with. We never found something that could work, and so eventually a friend who works in software development convinced us to develop our own. It was a completely daunting and absurdly risky task, but we eventually managed to pioneer a technology that is now being used across the broader orphan care space in South Africa, Africa and Asia. Looking back, I’m grateful for that difficult situation, and the friend who encouraged me to step into it.
5. Take yourself out of the centre
Don’t assume yours is the best idea in the room. When people come with a problem that needs resolving, resist bringing the solution. Try throwing the ball back into their court instead, and ask the person, “What do you think?” You’ll be amazed to see what surprising innovations emerge when others are authorised to bring the solution.
At Mosaic we are intentional about co-owning creative solutions – it’s a message for managers and cleaners alike. Thankfully today, that message lives out in practical evidences of ingenuity, both small and large – from a repurposed broom to a pioneering software technology.
6. Be intentional
Lastly, and very importantly – to cultivate creativity, celebrate when you see it in action. Make an effort to acknowledge the moment, no matter how seemingly insignificant, when someone brings an original thought or out-the-box solution to the table. Use gathering moments like staff meetings to honour and reward someone on your team for demonstrating ingenuity in some way that week. Make a big deal of a small thing. By doing so, you will methodically massage this core value into the heart of your teams, and see a spirit of creativity inculcated over time.
The fact is, creativity should not live on the peripheries of an organisation’s core values – it’s an intrinsic expression of our humanity. All of us are creators in one way or another, since we are made in God’s image. Just as He used darkness to form light, and chaos to create order, each of us has the ability to restructure the raw materials of chaos into something meaningful and purpose-filled. My encouragement to you is, take what’s in your hands – use it well, and watch how God will unlock the unimaginable.