In our current business landscape, it seems that the pressures to produce, analyze and deliver are more rigorous every day. There simply seems to be less time for creativity, due to these increasing ROI demands.
However it is creativity itself that brings the biggest payoffs in our ever-changing workplaces and business models today. According to Robert Safian, of Fast Company magazine’s recent article “Generation Flux,” it is precisely the ability to think around, through and over a problem using creativity that makes a company, or even an individual worker, viable. This type of thinking cannot be planned or automated; instead, it requires, by design, that employees have the time and space to exercise their creative processes.
Furthermore, as explained by Psychology Today’s Amy Fries, times of daydreaming or unplanned creativity can be the most productive time of problem solving and inspiration in a person’s day. Not only is creative time mandatory in keeping business fresh and innovative, says Fries, but it also adds to a company’s ability to attract and retain creative employees.
If our best creative ideas come to us while showering, driving or staring out the window, how can we schedule time for this in the workplace? On top of that, how do we schedule it for others—our work teams and subordinates? How do we give our employees and ourselves the time to be creative?
One important step, says Bill Breen of Fast Company, in his article “The 6 Myths of Creativity,” is to become aware of certain misconceptions we have about creativity in the workplace and by discrediting the following myths:
- Creativity is only accomplished by the “creative staff.” While certainly there are departments and job descriptions that focus more on creativity than others, creativity is a valuable tool in every aspect of your business. Creativity is evident in the ways companies can approach communication, solve disputes and organize incentives. You don’t want to leave creativity to only the artists; the ingenuity that makes businesses strong comes from creativity across the organization.
- Money spurs creativity. Breen cites studies that confirm that people do not think about their pay often enough during their work day to improve their productivity or creativity. Money is a fabulous incentive, but being allowed the freedom to be creative inspires more creativity, ultimately causing higher profits and higher wages.
- Competition causes creativity. In the same article, Breen finds that employees who work with teams are able to generate more creative activity than employees who are pitted against each other. The easy flow of ideas between team members allows for more risk taking, evaluation and improvement on ideas generated.
So with an awareness of these misconceptions, what can employers do? Fries, of Psychology Today suggests the following:
- Encourage creativity by asking open-ended and “What-if?” questions. Institute a “What if?” campaign and imprint the saying on mugs and Post-it® Notes.
- Suggest employees change their environment, such as taking a walk outside, working from the local coffee shop or brainstorming over lunch, while contemplating a work challenge.
- Open the door to new creative conversations with employees by suggesting you’d like their ideas about anything related to improving the business. Share enthusiasm for the ideas by distributing Bright Idea USB Drives or light bulb pens.
- Suggest daily daydream time for employees and share proof that you are taking this time yourself. You might model your use through a journal you carry and refer to regarding ideas that have come to you.
- Offer employees resources to change modes of thought, such as quotation journals on creativity or inspirational books.
Ultimately, creativity is a process that needs to be nurtured and supported. Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman of The Daily Beast argued in their article “The Creativity Crisis,” that creativity can’t be taught overnight or at a workshop. Instead, it is an alternating cycle, often made up of fact-finding, followed by analysis, interspersed with daydreaming, conversation and trial and error that make for the best creative habits. And the more you help your work teams practice creativity, the more they will do it on their own, and feel valued in the process. That is what will bring your company the biggest rewards, in both innovation and employee engagement.