Mary Ellen Kuhn

Mary Ellen Kuhn

IFT FIRST keynoter, Duncan Wardle
IFT FIRST keynoter, Duncan Wardle

Creativity, intuition, curiosity, and imagination will be the skill sets most in demand for the next generation of employees, predicted Monday’s IFT FIRST keynoter, Duncan Wardle, former head of innovation and creativity at Disney in a session titled “Embedding Innovation Into Everyone’s DNA.”

Cultivating innovation and creativity is challenging, however, Wardle explained in a lively, interactive featured session. That’s because our educational system and professional environments can be creativity killers. Children are inherently creative, Wardle pointed out, adding that one of the first lessons kids are taught is “to color in-between the lines.”

To develop an atmosphere of creativity, managers and leaders need to be open and positive—and avoid focusing on potential barriers. “Don’t let ‘no, because’ be the first words out of your mouth” when a team member presents a new idea, he said. Instead, he urged leaders and colleagues to respond with “yes, and,” thus encouraging idea generators to build and expand on their thoughts. “Don’t be the Eeyore in the room,” he said.

We don’t get our best ideas at work, Wardell continued, because most employees are too busy with the routine requirements of the job to have time to devote to creative thinking. “’I don’t have time to think’ is the No. 1 barrier to innovation,” he observed.

Wardle’s recommendations for fostering innovation included the following:

Get playful. Creating an atmosphere of playfulness in the workplace is critical to creative thinking, he said, noting that people tend to be at their most creative at times when they’re away from work and relaxing or doing something enjoyable.

Build a diverse team. “Diversity is innovation,” said Wardle. “If someone doesn’t look like you, they don’t think like you.” It’s a mistake to rely on the same-old experts, he noted, citing the value of tapping into the wisdom of someone who isn’t part of the established culture, someone he described as a “naive expert.”

Think differently about challenges. To do that, said Wardle, first write down the rules of the challenge you’re facing and then ask yourself how you might approach it if the rules no longer applied.

Be brave. “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice. It’s conformity,” he emphasized in conclusion.

The world is changing rapidly, Wardle said, urging audience members to tap into the creativity that is embedded within all of us. “Now is the time to ask what if?” he said. “Now is the time to ask what else? Now is the time to be playful.”

About the Author

Mary Ellen Kuhn is executive editor of Food Technology magazine ([email protected]).
Mary Ellen Kuhn

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