Many leaders are frustrated by their inability to motivate people. In some cases, it is because they are using the overly simplistic “scientific management” concept made popular in the early 20th century by Frederick Taylor, who believed that employees are motivated only by money.

It turns out that creativity may be the new cash, when it comes to motivating employees. Research has shown that people who are given the opportunity to use their creativity in their everyday work  are more highly motivated, have lower absenteeism rates and demonstrate a strong commitment to all aspects of their job.

Some top Japanese organizations use employee engagement systems to encourage problem finding and solving behavior and drive creative output, including cost savings and new products and procedures. One company had 660,000 implemented new ideas from 9,000 employees in a single year. While these suggestion systems can result in highly valuable new ideas, their primary objective is to engage employees in the innovation process as part of their jobs.

Developing a culture of empathy toward one another can also create a connection to a key element of this proven innovation process. Genuine respect and caring for others’ well being ties naturally into the ‘problem finding’ process that is summarized with the expression, “How might we?” Achieving breakthrough results starts with empathy for the needs and problems of internal and external users and customers.  By surfacing customer needs and problems, often before they themselves are aware of them, organizations can find innovative solutions that answer the questions, “How might we help the customer?” and “How might the customer?”

The secret is that innovation is a process, not an event or a happening. It is a creative problem solving process of finding and defining internal and external needs, developing solutions to address those needs, and successfully implementing those solutions. The needs – or problems to be solved – can be found across a broad spectrum of areas, including, but not limited to technology, products, markets, packaging, design, manufacturing processes, new business models, , and new ways to go-to-market. The innovation process and the mental skills that make it work can be learned and become a daily habit that results in ongoing creative disruption and problem solving.  Everyone can take part in this innovation process. Once learned and understood, people at every level of an organization can use it in every department.