Somehow I Manage

If you’ve ever met me, you’ve likely discovered my obsession when it comes to NBC’s “The Office”. Since its debut in 2005, I’ve often found myself becoming the “That-reminds-me-of-that-one-time-in-The-Office-when…” guy, awkwardly quoting lines from the show that people don’t seem to pick up on. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve sat down and watched the seasons from beginning to end . My latest estimate is thirteen, which is equivalent to approximately 57,200 minutes. That’s right, I actually sat down and did the math (remember what I said about those obscure references?).

During its runtime, the show not only launched the careers of John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson and Mindy Kaling, but it also left behind much more in the (surprising) form of advice for the modern workplace. And though people may not catch on to my references, there are a number of aspects of the show that companies should be picking up on.

1. The best ideas can come from anywhere

When the new CEO Jo Bennett visited Scranton, she held a company-wide meeting to hear from all levels of the organization. After years of being isolated in the warehouse working as the foreman, Darryl Philbin was given a voice to share his plan for fixing logistics of the company’s shipping methods. Darryl’s initiative earned him a promotion and his own office upstairs.

Yes, the members of your top executive team are in their roles for a reason, but that doesn’t mean that an eager, young employee can’t come up with the next great idea. Innovation and creativity are ubiquitous. At Kaleidoscope for example, an ideation session meant to inform packaging graphics may include team members from strategy, industrial design, mock-up and even our model shop. The points of view are different. The industrial design team may uncover an opportunity to adjust the structure in a way that improves the holistic presentation of the package and creates manufacturing efficiency. Through cross-discipline collaboration and discussion, you’re able to learn what makes an idea good and a good idea better.

2.  It’s okay to fail as long as it’s quick and you learn from your mistakes

The one thing that remained constant when it came to the enigma that is Michael Scott was his search for love. Whether it was his off-and-on relationship with Jan, his short-lived relationship with Pam’s mom, Helene, or the Benihana’s waitress, he always failed. And he failed a lot. With each failure, he recognized his shortcomings, honed in on the attributes he most desired in a partner and adjusted his search.  Eventually he met Holly, and the rest was history.

Chances are you’re not going to land on that million-dollar idea the first time you try either, so don’t be afraid to let team members try out different ideas. With an agile approach to innovation, much like at Kaleidoscope, sharpened ideas and concepts can quickly take shape through the use of rapid prototyping and open collaboration. Prototype and test ideas early, make edits, and try them again. By encouraging and garnering feedback from stakeholders for validation throughout the creation process, potential problem areas can arise much sooner and be quickly addressed without sacrificing significant time, energy or resources.

3. Workplace autonomy

The Scranton branch continued year after year to be the most profitable branch of the company, yet it was ran by a man that once put his face into wet cement in order to create his own version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Corporate routinely asked Michael to explain the reason behind his success, but unsurprisingly, he never came close to making any sense. However, it might have been his passion for the work, his humility and his engaging work environment that had something to do with the performance of his employees.

Human beings are naturally autonomous creatures in that we all want control over our own lives. Yet, at a very young age, life quickly becomes structured and routine. In the past, organizational structures had taken a page from the Bill Lumbergh Book of Management, relying heavily on micro-management and strict bureaucratic guidelines. However, studies have shown that thekey to developing passionate and empowered employees is by granting them autonomy.

The role of a manager isn’t in place to make sure people are filling in their TPS reports. A manager should create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation by empowering people to work the best way they can in order to achieve the best. And when people feel they have power over how they perform their job, they will naturally gain a sense of passion and an eagerness for improvement.

Long story short, listen to your team, empower them, and provide support and encouragement. What has worked to foster creativity within your organization?