Innovation as self-actualisation

We live in uncertain times, exacerbated by a fresh round of economic woes. Pushing an innovation agenda in such an environment is a major challenge but not one leaders should shirk, argues innovation expert Jeffrey Phillips. Quoting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he says it’s understandable that the more fearful or stressed people are, the more difficult innovation becomes. Basic needs are under threat, safety and security seem to be evaporating, groups are turning inward, so the prospect of self-actualisation – the top of Maslow’s pyramid where innovation and creativity become activities that drive beneficial outcomes – can appear remote or even irrelevant. “Many find innovation and creativity difficult to consider when issues like job security or financial security are at risk,” Phillips says. The task for leaders, then, is “to help your people, as much as possible, fulfil these lower-level needs of safety, security and esteem. Only then can they focus…on creativity and innovation”. Even in tough economic times, it’s possible to maintain engagement by creating a setting in which people can regularly achieve small wins, adds Professor Teresa Amabile, author of The Progress Principle. “Of all the things that can make people think highly of their jobs, feel upbeat, and experience passion for the work, the single most important is simply making progress in meaningful work,” she says. “Inner work life and creativity feed each other.”   

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