Robert Epstein on sustainable business

“Creativity is critically important for sustainable business,” said Robert Epstein, “in part because sustainability is a goal that has a deadline.”

Robert Epstein: Creativity is critically important for sustainable business, in part because sustainability is a goal that has a deadline. We are under pressure as a civilization to correct the damage we’ve done to the environment. That means we need new ideas flowing and flowing fast.

Dr. Robert Epstein is a psychologist at University of California, San Diego, a former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine, and CEO of a company called Creativity International. He will be speaking at the Sustainable Brands Conference in June in Monterey, CA. Epstein believes creativity is key to business in the 21st century.

Robert Epstein: Most companies look for new ideas in a haphazard way. It’s kind of a hope and a prayer, really.

He said there’s a science behind getting ideas to flow.

Robert Epstein: There’s a lot of research at this point showing how novel behavior, how new behavior, emerges over time, and what kinds of conditions lead to that emergence.

He said that focusing on creativity can affect every aspect of a business.

Robert Epstein: How they run meetings, how they set goals, how they order pencils. Literally every aspect of what a company does can be altered slightly so that it produces more creativity, more innovation all through the company.

And these ideas are important, he said, if businesses are going to tackle the challenges of this century. He also said he thinks the idea of businesses taking responsibility for a more sustainable planet is gaining ground. Epstein has created a method to engineer more ideas within businesses. It involves training employees to express their creativity. Epstein works with organizations to train their employees in this way. He said this science-driven approach has increased suggestions of new ideas by 80 percent, in one recent study.

Robert Epstein: Business can either look out for itself or it can look out for humanity as a whole. More and more businesses are realizing they can do both.

He said the idea behind the scientific principles of generating creativity has its roots in research with pigeons, which he began in the 1970s. The research then moved on to children, then adults, and then into business.

Robert Epstein: There are actually scientific principles which allow companies to embed techniques into policies and procedures, which keeps creativity and innovation flowing all through the year. The process is called embedding. It involves making small changes to most everything a company does.

Epstein’s theory is called “Generativity Theory.” It involves four areas in which individuals can be trained to express their creativity, and eight areas in which managers and supervisors can be trained to develop those creative tendencies in their employees. Epstein spoke about a recent training study he led.

Robert Epstein: We trained almost 200 employees of a city government in basic creativity competencies. We trained people in human resources. We trained people in management. We trained people in the police and fire departments. And we then kept track of how many ideas people were contributing to managers over a period of time. We saw a pretty dramatic increase occur after the training. That increase was maintained eight months after training had occurred. The city kept track of benefits they had received from new ideas being contributed after the training. They attributed $4 million of new revenues and non-invasive cost cuts to the training, and the new creativity culture.

Special thanks today to Sustainable Life Media.

Dr. Epstein will be speaking at the 2010 Sustainable Brands Conference, June 7-10th in Monterey, California. Where the Sustainability & Brand & Design Communities Come Together to Build Brand Leadership.

Lindsay Patterson