Generating Creativity in the Workplace

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 13th May 2016

Creativity is what enables organisations to accomplish more than their current achievements. It gives them bigger and better ways to meet goals, and is often the driver of completely new elements of organisational vision.

Simply making current processes more efficient can only go so far, and creativity is what allows success to reach new levels.

So how do you get more of it in your workplace?


Who can be creative at work?

Sometimes, the things you read about creativity seem to imply that the world is divided into those who are creative and those who aren’t, with the “aren’t” group being by far the larger of the two. Indeed, research by Belbin using his team roles assessment has often shown the creative “Plant” type to be the rarest in the UK.

People often think of creativity as being aligned to art or music, and thus pronounce themselves to be not creative. Sometimes, people will have been told they weren’t creative by parents or teachers, and have just accepted it as the truth.

All this leads to the assumption that only a chosen few have the spark of creativity. But thinking this way leads to misleading conclusions.

The archetypal mad inventors who can create a space rocket in the shed are indeed a very small percentage of the population. But is this really what we mean when we think about creativity in the workplace? It’s likely that far more of us can be creative than we think.

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The creativity of crowds

Bring a diverse and engaged team together and the picture starts to look very promising. It is the sharing of perspectives and ideas that tends to lead to valuable creative thinking in the workplace.

Generally, we’re not looking for breathtaking insight or a stroke of genius. We’re looking for the wisdom of experience and understanding, shared between people who have different takes on an issue, and who care enough to think long and hard, pooling their collective knowledge to find a better answer.

The issue we need to tackle as leaders, then, is not recruiting mad geniuses with off-the-wall ideas. Instead, we need to create a climate that is a catalyst for creativity, in which people have space to think, to share ideas, and to puzzle their way through complex problems. We need to allow them to ponder and discuss, and to test their thinking.

We even need to allow them to discover that sometimes an idea won’t work, and that that’s ok. WD40 was so named because it was the 40th different formulation that finally worked. WD35 would probably have been a terrible product.

As Tom Peters says, leaders should “reward excellent failure; punish mediocre success”. He proposes that we need to recognise the bravery of trying to make things better, regardless of success. If we do, more attempts will follow and more people will try… and some of it will work.

Steven Johnson refers to some of this as the “slow hunch”, and suggests that the real key is to allow ideas to develop and grow, until that moment of realisation when the light dawns.
It all begins by creating the space and bringing the right people together with the freedom to think and act, and the permission to fail… and to try again.

What makes a good creative idea?

Creativity is the step that comes before innovation. Creativity is the generation of ideas, while innovation seeks to translate them into action and impact. In order for a creative idea to be valuable, it must have the potential to turn into innovation.

While creativity will inevitably produce heroic failures, you need to be able to recognise which ideas are worth pursuing, and which aren’t. A great idea in the workplace must be more than simply new. Being different is not enough; it must also be useful in practice, and be aimed at delivering some real benefits.

Allow your team to think freely, but make sure that thinking is aligned with the broader objectives of the organisation.

And don’t forget, no matter how talented and experienced people are, they need to be properly engaged for the creative process to flourish. Watch the free webinar on engaging your employees here.

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