Fostering creativity in the workplace, is it viable?
For many creativity may seem a bit of an elusive concept, more of an extravagant pastime than something you are asked of at work. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.” Pondering the subject in terms of work I think Dictionary.com provides a more encompassing definition as “The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns,relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”
There has, over the years, been growing interest and research into creativity as scientists and industry recognise its importance, intricacies and ramifications across diverse applications from psychology to engineering and even economics. In business, the increasing need to come up with new ideas and unique solutions to new problems has led to the recognition of creative thinking and creative problem solving skills, as highly valuable to continued growth in today's business climate. It has widely become accepted as the raw ingredient to business innovation.
The ability to harness creativity at work provides the capability for organisations to generate unique methods, intellectual property, and processes, ultimately providing them with a competitive advantage.
The issue this presents however is that traditionally, business and work environments are not conducive to enabling the ‘creative juices’ to flow, so to speak. They have up until recently, and still today in many cases, been about productivity and getting the job done. It is increasingly hard for many people grappling with growing to-do lists to even consider trying to do something differently, let alone actually doing it.
This fundamental issue is what is causing organisations and business to realise the importance of fostering more of a “creative-friendly” work environment. A lot of investment and research has gone into the field of organisational creativity and subsequently, there is a wealth of business advice and information circulating on implementing change into the traditional working environment and practices to foster creativity.
While we know change is never an easy one to introduce in the best of situations, see my previous blog post where we discuss embracing change in your work environment, the plot thickens in that many managers and CEOs find it a difficult concept to take on board as it involves risk, the potential disruption of current productivity and is not immediately contributory to the meeting of critical performance targets.
The argument of creativity being in conflict with productivity seems to be a lingering barrier for many businesses still. This is a crucial argument that I believe needs to be overthrown in order for true progress to be made in the pursuit of both better work satisfaction and true acceleration of business innovation.
The concern is that for true creativity to flourish it requires two main things, space and time. Something valuable to many traditionally run businesses. The idea of sacrificing these, especially time, for the gain of something less tangible and measurable is a scary thought for many business leaders, and the main reason it conflicts with the idea of maintaining productivity.
The point however is that through cultivating a more creative free thinking workforce you stand to gain far greater value from new ideas and solutions to problems that could accelerate your productivity, add greater value to your business and sharpen your competitive edge.
To truly embrace the benefits of a creative workforce business leaders and managers across the board need to see the bigger picture and the inherent misconceptions need to be demystified.
While some of the tactics to promote creativity at work are tangible changes to the work environment and even process, the majority of change needs to come from management practice and cultural change, so without a wholesome understanding of the benefits any attempt to integrate creativity at work will only fall short.
Perhaps a brief insight into the workings of a productive “get things done” mind, and a creative ‘how can we do this” mind may help shed a bit of light on the argument.
When people are in the mindset of getting through a list of tasks and being productive they are indulging in convergent thinking, using the left side of their brain, the side of logic. They are not thinking about how they are doing things or if there is a better way, they are simply getting on with it. While people in the creative mindset are indulging in divergent thinking, using the right side of their brain, the side of imagination. These two types of thinking cannot function at the same time, they operate separately from each other.
Convergent thinking is a logical, task oriented mode that calls on established answers and ways of doing things. It’s great for getting things done but this kind of work is repetitive, it does not stop to think if there is a better way, work can become mundane and workers stagnant and unengaged.
Divergent thinking on the other hand is imaginative, questioning and explorative. It allows a person to think critically about problems and tasks, and to come up with new ideas to improve. It often allows people to step back and see the bigger picture, coming up with more valuable and deeper contributions that can actually improve productivity more than sitting at a desk simply doing.
Most workplaces do not support creative thinking, as workers spend most of their time in a convergent mindframe it becomes harder to switch between the two.
By creating a more creative-friendly environment at work, employers can help workers learn to switch, and in fact, the process of using both types of thinking can be managed to create a balance, but first workers need to feel able and encouraged to stop and think - with the right side of their brain - at work. This is a topic for another blog but for now I’ll leave you with this thought….
“The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Mark Zuckerberg