How can we enhance the creative thinking of our employees and our teams? Is a manager's decision all it takes? How does the external environment influence this process?

Our creativity is suppressed by external structures long before we join an organization — in the education system, for example. As young children, we use our imagination without constraints. But then we get enrolled in schools, and we are taught to focus on the correct answer, that there is a right way to get to that answer. School doesn't teach us to explore possibilities; it doesn't teach us to become comfortable with the mistakes we make. And it sets us up for competition instead of collaboration. We carry these habits with us as adults, and we bring them to the organizations we join later in life.

We can't simply decide to be more creative starting tomorrow, but we can make this our company's ambition for the next 2-3 years. 

Creative thinking is similar to muscle; it needs regular and deliberate exercise to grow. In this respect, implementing tools and processes that catalyze creative thinking is an essential step for a company. It is equally important to encourage creativity through organizational climate — to allow people to be curious and to create a safe space for ideas, experiments, and mistakes. Organizing some brainstorming sessions or a couple of design thinking workshops is not enough if, afterward, we go back to hindering practices, like sanctioning mistakes or ignoring ideas from junior employees.

How can we overcome the resistance to change?

Through practice, collaboration, and leadership. Through continuous efforts. Resisting change is a natural reaction — the human brain wants to save energy and prefers staying in its comfort zone. Change takes us out of this zone both from a cognitive and an affective perspective. We can't predict what will happen, we don't know how it might impact us or whether we have the skills to survive the change. 

At the opposite pole, creative thinking empowers us with flexibility; it makes us feel more comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and volatility. And it gives us the toolset, the skillset, and the mindset we need to navigate such a reality.

Then, the change forced upon us will always face more resistance than the change we contribute to. Imagine the following scenario: a company's leadership decides to change a work process from A to Z, and the team that uses that process is informed about the decision. Compare this with a second scenario, where the leadership explores, designs, and selects the new process version with the team that uses it. This second scenario brings to the table more comfort and alignment — it is this very type of ownership that facilitates adoption and contributes to the successful implementation of the solution. As you can see, leadership plays an essential role in these scenarios.

The current crisis is a real opportunity to implement innovative processes in business. What other factors might facilitate innovation in business?

Indeed, crises catalyze innovation; when a company faces imminent adversity, its only priority is to survive — this is a clear objective that all the stakeholders can easily agree upon. Furthermore, several parameters that influence a company's capacity to innovate change significantly during a crisis. Resistance to change decreases: we are more willing to leave our comfort zone to save ourselves. Creativity expands. And so does the agility of teams because solutions must be implemented quickly before they become obsolete. And bureaucracy decreases.

We can facilitate innovation if we look at these parameters and find ways to improve them. We can hire external experts to help us assess and develop an innovation climate, we can resort to training, or we can look for change agents within the organization. 

A dedicated innovation department can also help the organization to continuously innovate, as long as it has enough flexibility and independence. 

There are no recipes, though; it depends on each company's status quo. I believe it is mandatory for companies to begin this effort with an internal assessment.

How do you rate the Romanian management culture related to a business need to innovate?

In recent years I have been hearing a lot about innovation as a newfound necessity in business. But innovation has never been separate from business; innovation should be part of every company's DNA. To survive, a company has to constantly provide added value to its audiences — to come up with a new offer or with a better offer. Otherwise, the company risks becoming obsolete, losing its clients to competitors, or damaging its reputation. I believe it is time for organizations to become aware of this.

Moreover, companies have the habit of looking toward results when they talk about innovation. Now, these results (whether it's products, services, or technologies) are born from the interaction between people and processes in a specific climate. If these three factors are not prepared for creativity and, implicitly, for innovation, then why do we keep on hoping for an innovative result?

The new technologies will influence how we work, from production to HR processes. How well will the symbiosis between human and machine work, and how will it impact business models?

From the first to the fourth industrial revolution, which we are currently experiencing, humans and machines have worked together well. As technologies evolve, so do the abilities sought by organizations for their teams; the future will favor creativity, affective skills, and strategic thinking because these are inherently humane. They differentiate us from machines. And given that technologies and tools are changing at an unprecedented rate, I think learning curves will also weigh in a lot.

To be honest, I don't know how humans and machines will interact in the future, but I find it impossible to look at the world through a black-or-white, bad-or-good lens. 

I believe our reality is more complex, and that the responsibility of future technologies rests on our shoulders. After all, machines are nothing more than tools built by humans. But I have to admit that I would like — and I hope — for the future to belong to those organizations that believe in the triple bottom line (profit, people, and planet).

This article was first published in Transilvania Business Magazine.