THE BLOG
08/14/2015 03:46 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2016

Creative Lessons CMOs Can Learn from Facebook, Google, and Apple: 4 Lessons to Stimulate Creativity from the World's Most Innovative Companies

Facebook, Google, and Apple - these companies are often regarded as some of the world's most innovative organizations. While it may seem that they have complex, expensive ways to stimulate creativity, many of their best approaches are surprisingly simple.

Here are four key lessons CMOs can learn from these and other innovative companies to help inspire creativity:

1. Establish A Clear Vision

It may seem counterintuitive, but in order to inspire free thinking, the first step is often to set some limits. While some academics and consultants advocate not restricting brainstorming creativity in any way, I've found allowing infinite options with few guidelines can paralyze innovation. Creativity flourishes when some parameters exist for what brands stand for and the brand equity elements that marketing tactics and line-extensions must protect and extend. Apple is a great example of a brand that adheres to a strong identity and vision for what it stands for, and the company continues to innovate while staying true to their brand parameters.

2. Allocate Time To Innovate

Employees need to be reassured that it's not only OK, but valued, to take time from the day to day, take a step back and think about their brands from a distance. Time, distance and a different perspective can allow new ideas to sprout and percolate. Some of the world's most innovative companies have taken this approach. 3M, for example, has long had the "15%"rule, designed to allow employees to have time to work on their own projects. "Rules" such as 3M's are designed to encourage employees to work on opportunities they identified on their own and are passionate about.

If your company doesn't have a formal policy that provides designated time for innovation, you can create these times for yourself. One way to take time to innovate is by traveling. Take a week (or more) to explore a new country, and seek inspiration in unlikely sources including the country's art, architecture and cuisine.

3. Physical Environments Should Signal Creativity

How can you signal creativity in your physical office space? Here again, you can take inspiration from some of the world's top companies. Facebook, for instance, has inspirational posters with motivational sayings all around its offices. Google's offices around the world have bright, colorful, creative furniture. The Mountain View campus has a huge dinosaur: A symbol of what they might become if they don't constantly innovate. Look for ways to incorporate inspiring elements within your own work environment.

4. Routinely Bring In New Ideas

To inspire creativity, look at what you can learn from experts from other fields. Exposure to creative individuals from diverse fields inspires creativity, cross-pollination of ideas, and relevant analogies. To develop the Apple Watch, for example, Apple brought in historians and astronomers for inspiration, while Google is known to bring in celebrity chefs to give talks to employees.

The Bottom Line:

The secrets many of the world's most innovative companies know is that fostering innovation does not have to be a complex and costly endeavor. In fact, it's remarkable how simple and inexpensive many of these approaches can be. Some of the best ways to foster creativity don't require massive organizational changes and consultants to implement. You just need a commitment, proper communication within the organization, and steps to enforce and routinize the changes.