“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” -Steve Jobs
There’s a reason why childhood is often the most creative period of a person’s life. It’s the time you’re allowed to play, explore, and imagine, whether in school or on the playground. Whatsmore, you are still learning, eager to soak up new information and discover new things. As we grow older, we often become stagnant, bogged down and specialized in our given field. We lose our enthusiasm to learn new things and stick to what we know, letting our creativity go to waste. While many might say this is just a part of growing up, stifling creativity can have negative effects, both inside and outside the workplace. So what’s at stake for those in the business world who aren’t creatively engaged?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. Research shows that those who are creatively engaged at work are more productive, are happier and have higher engagement. Additionally, companies who encourage creativity stand to see a boost in profits. According to a Forrester survey commissioned by Adobe, 58% of companies who were surveyed said that their firms’ attempts to foster creativity in the workplace had increased revenues by 10% or more. Additionally, McKinsey has shown that creative leaders outperform their non-creative counterparts, boasting above-average growth, returns, and net enterprise value.
Companies like Google have been leading the way in crafting a working culture intended to boost employee happiness and creativity, in addition to helping make employees more productive and innovative. If you’ve wondered why startups have been exploring new benefits like lounge and meditation spaces, company project days, ping pong tables, and team events, it’s because they’re paying attention to the research demonstrating that creativity is associated with a superior performance. Curiosity, a drive to gain new skills, and dedicated quiet time to oneself are all proven to boost creativity and thus, job performance.
Apple founder Steve Jobs, perhaps one of the most creative entrepreneur of our time, was known for his unique ability to think outside the box and come up with innovative, new solutions. Jobs was able to anticipate the needs of his customers before they recognized them themselves. The truth is, however, that we all have creative potential, it’s just a matter of nurturing what’s already there. Providing this space for employees is the task of the modern company. As Barbara Dyer puts it in a 2015 article in Fortune Magazine, “Promoting a culture of creativity requires honing the skills of observation and invention – generally the purview of artists and designers – throughout your organization and aligning core systems to reinforce the creative process.”
It is clear today that companies that fail to innovate will struggle to keep their market share. So what can companies do to encourage workers’ creativity? Here are some tips that we here at Innential have discovered through our research into creativity at work:
Do something unrelated to work. While not all companies may be sold on Google’s 20% free-time policy, wherein workers are encouraged to spend one fifth of their work week focused on a creative project, it’s undeniable that creativity flourishes in environments ripe with variety. Steve Jobs, for example, was a fan of taking long walks and meditating as a way to clear his head, while Elon Musk is known for playing video games. Offering your employees the chance to decompress with a game of ping pong or a calming yoga class can help unlock their creative potential.
Create a culture that rewards new ideas. When employees work in an environment where it is made clear that their ideas and opinions will not be taken into account, they likely won’t feel empowered to use their creative energy to come up with innovative solutions to propel the company forward. By allowing a space, whether in a weekly meeting or by another means, for workers to express their ideas, they will likely be eager to come up with new ways they can make their mark on the company.
Say ‘Yes, and...’ instead of ‘Yes, but...’ Alison A. Quirk suggests taking a lesson from improv theater, where actors entering into a given scene have no idea what kind of situation they’re walking into until they get there (sounds a lot like entrepreneurship, huh?). Teams are instructed to always accept the situation and build on it, rather than trying to control, shape, or undo it. The business world can take a lesson from this and learn to accept, validate, and improve upon ideas rather than relying on rejection and fear.
Consider project days. One trait of creative people is the willingness to try new things. Manchester Metropolitan University hosts an “Engage Week” each year, a time set aside for staff to learn something new. This period of discovery often gives way not only to a more creative staff, but it helps them communicate better and learn new methods of problem solving from their new craft. Additionally, employees are often paired up with people from different departments, leading to a stronger sense of community across the company.
Allow time to reflect. Tony Lopresti proposes that employers allow their staff two to three hours a week without distractions or interruptions in order to brainstorm and come up with new and innovative solutions to problems. Consider setting aside time for employees each week that is free of meetings, emails, and “daily business” so they can dedicate some concentrated time to thinking and innovating on their own.
Allow for failure. Failure is an important part of innovation. Let’s not forget how many times Steve Jobs failed before finally succeeding in leading Apple to become the most profitable company in the world. No one gets it right all the time, and failure is an integral part of the learning process. Encourage your workers to experiment and be innovative, yet don’t chastise them if their ideas don’t work out. Empower them to learn from their failures and do better next time around.
Create an environment where creativity can thrive. Recent research has shown the astounding effects that space can have on creativity. Creativity thrives in environments of openness, and even ordered chaos. Spaces that allow for free movement and are less structured than a typical office environment, where people can mingle and discuss ideas are great for generating creativity. Likewise, keeping temperatures warm, the lights low, noises ambient and not too loud can provide an optimal environment for innovation to flourish.
Although many businesses likely haven’t prioritized creativity in the past, now is certainly the time to start. If companies begin to make an effort to foster creativity in the workplace, they will almost certainly see results from both a financial and human resources perspective. Regardless of how you approach it, giving those in the workplace a feeling of agency and possibility in their positions can only have positive effects.
Innenital is currently conducting research on creativity in the workplace. If you are interested in participating in our survey, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org today!