Creating a Culture of Innovation

Laura ThrallLast week on my radio program I had the opportunity to interview Laura Thrall, CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. She shared many great ideas and how United Way is meeting challenges in the current economy. In case you missed the program, I wanted to share one of the ways Laura creates a culture of innovation at United Way.

The Weekly Mash-Up

I asked Laura about leadership and how she inspires and engages her team. She talked about leading by example, willing to roll up her sleeves and fostering a culture of creativity. I asked her for some concrete examples of empowering staff to be creative.

Every week all staff are invited to the Weekly Mash-Up – ALL staff…not just management or directors. Anyone who is available is welcome to attend and participate. The purpose of the meeting is to generate new ideas, solve problems, think creatively. Ideas that came out of that meeting include:

  • Chalking the Chicago sidewalks with Live United Chicago logo
  • United Way coffee jet packs outside United Way corporate offices to serve staff as they arrive

Some nonprofits talk about creativity, but are reluctant to change. Some leaders ask for new ideas and shoot them down. In this economy and always we need to be innovative. A leader does not have to come up with all the answers but they can empower staff. Change is good. New ideas make change.

Couple quick ideas to encourage and empower innovation:

  • Use mind mapping to approach ideas, challenges, problem solving from a different point of view and using a visual diagram
  • BBQ the sacred cow – What in your organization can’t be touched? Does it keep your organization from moving forward or just is? Is it time to let it go? This can release a lot of energy and creativity.
  • View a challenge through someone else’s point of view
  • Use mind tiles to get ideas out and move them from creativity to innovation
  • Engage in brainstorming: Remember – no idea is a bad idea, no comments – just a flow of ideas

Practice creativity. Empower creativity. It will lead to innovation.

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