Innovation is essential for business to succeed today. Creativity fuels innovation. The word “creative” sparks images of artists, writers, or even children at work on crafts, but without harnessing the imagination, we are unlikely to transcend traditional business practices, conceive new products, or obtain new customers. Today’s workplace unwittingly rewards “in the box” thinking and the opinions of the loudest tend to take precedence. What is the best way to foster creativity in the workplace?
The definition of creative is: “relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” Today’s corporate culture, with neatly arranged cubicles, defined hierarchies, and specific office hours, does not allow the unfettered wandering that engages the creative mind. With an increasing emphasis on a shrinking skilled workforce and talent pool, companies are beginning to view creativity as less of the purview of designers and writers and something that can benefit their bottom line. While we may not all be able to redecorate our offices in bright colors or offer employee sabbaticals, we can take small steps to foster more creativity in the workplace.
- Brainstorm before meetings. Brainstorming is a popular term in corporate America, but while it aims to foster innovation, it might have just the opposite effect. When one person is talking, you are more likely to assimilate their ideas, according to an article in Fast Company. Further, ideas shared earlier in the meeting tend to be adopted. To take advantage of the creative process, rather than shouting out ideas, employees should write down ideas and solutions at the very beginning of the meeting and then discuss. That way, everyone has a part to play.
- Be specific. Giving a very general directive rather than placing parameters around a problem or goal reduces the likelihood of success. Identify the problem you want your team to solve and focus on one solution.
- Allow time for creative endeavors. In technology, where innovation can make or break a company, there has been more of an effort to make creative processes part of the workplace. For example, Google allows an employee up to 20% of their time each week to pursue creative projects. Gmail was one such result of this program.
Some people advise the practice of mindfulness in the pursuit of creativity, which may sound amusing in the context of a corporate office. Mindfulness may not mean meditating for 20 minutes and chanting. It is the process of stepping back, quieting the mind, and observing the thoughts that pass through. We often race through our days, checking off to-do lists, with our minds running equally fast. The constant motion does not make generating new and thoughtful ideas easy. Have you ever noticed that a solution to a problem or creative idea pops into your mind when you are doing something mundane, such as washing dishes, in the shower, or driving? Research has shown that in these situations, the area of your brain used for critical thinking is less active. Rather, the area of the brain responsible for emotions and making associations is active. There is a similar pattern observed when people are sleeping, which can also explain why some people wake up in the middle of the night with ideas or solutions to problems.
What stifles creativity? Pressure. Creativity does not flourish in environments where stress is rampant. A stress response harkens back to the early days of human evolution where “fight or flight” determined survival. In stressful work environments, the emphasis is on meeting deadlines and getting the basics done, not innovating for new ideas, processes, or products.
According to a Newsweek article published in 2010, creativity among children and adults has been on the decline since 1990. Yet, the requirement to innovate and differentiate businesses in a rapidly changing world is increasing. If we leave creativity at the door when we enter our offices each day, we leave opportunity behind. As Einstein said, “Creativity is everything. It is a preview of life’s coming attractions.” As humans, we are creative beings. Our potential to create is only limited by the restrictions we place on ourselves.