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February 10, 2020

During the time that I have been with Sonoco, I’ve learned one of the most important things about being an R&D manager is encouraging your team to think ‘outside of the box’ to innovatively solve problems and drive new ideas.  Keeping a team of creative scientists and engineers energized and inspired is crucial to the success of the organization.


Based on my experiences, there are four important elements to spark creativity in any team:


1. Team Chemistry:

After being in R&D for 20 years, I’ve realized the importance of having a diverse team.  Whether that be 'diversity of thought,' culture, personality, background or experience, a good team is comprised of people who think differently which will inspire creativity in others.  My team is made up of chemists, chemical and mechanical engineers, materials scientists, packaging scientists, and even an architect.  Like the spokes on a wheel, having people with different formal training and industrial experiences brings together unique approaches to solving problems which can result in new discoveries.  We are all approaching the problem from a different angle but with the central goal of moving an idea forward.


2. Time Investment:

When I think about creativity in the scientific arena, I liken it to being an artist or a musician.  They need something to inspire them, the freedom to chase an idea, and the ability to follow the creative process which often involves a lot of stops and starts.  My job as a manager is to create an environment that fosters creative thinking and give my team the resources and opportunities that keep them learning and pushing forward.  It is important that they have time to:

  • Comb the literature to understand the landscape of technical research and discoveries
  • Attend conferences and trade shows to keep abreast of the latest technologies
  • Continue learning through training and courses
Glenn Jordan - Senior Manager, Product Development
Glenn Jordan, Sr. Manager of Product Development

The patent wall here at the iPS Studio is a great motivator and reminder of the rich history of Sonoco scientists who have developed inventions and new technologies.  We have a strong heritage of innovation, and we want to continue to build on our past as we pioneer the future to help the company grow.


3. Safe Space:

Safety is one of the core pillars of Sonoco.  In addition to physical safety on the job, we need to have an intellectually safe environment to foster creativity.   We need to be able to freely share ideas without feeling threatened that they will be shut down or closed off.  I strive to foster a safe environment for my team to create, share ideas, and work together.  It’s important to:

  • Not squash ideas. Some have more potential than others, but I don't want a creative person to feel limited or boxed in. 
  • Learn from failure. The creative process comes with some things that don’t work out.  In R&D, we have to be ok with that.  You learn from it and move on.
  • Encourage my team to document their ideas and submit them to be patented for Intellectual Property for Sonoco.
  • Convey an attitude and culture that encourages thinking outside of the box.  I believe this is the most important thing you can do as a manager.


4. Collective Celebration:

The fourth critical element for fostering an environment of creativity is taking the time to celebrate.  We celebrate as a team.  Maybe not everyone was able to contribute to that idea or discovery, but we all embrace the process and the positive energy of the win that the team delivered.     


Innovative ideas come at different times, in different situations, and under different circumstances.  As a manager though, it is about creating the environment for your team and understanding what they need to be most productive.  Creativity and innovation are the building blocks for new ideas, new inventions, and better packaging!

Glenn Jordan