Giving birth to creativity is hard enough, keeping it alive is even harder.
I was at a dinner party the other night and it wasn’t long before someone asked me what I do, “I’m a Creative Director”. I said. Now this response can get one of two reactions, it’s either a glazed look of, “what does that mean, is that a real job?” or a little whoop of envy, as if I have the best job in the world.
Of course it’s the latter reaction that I get the most pleasure from. So yes I’m a creative person but I’m not an artist or musician; my creativity doesn’t rank up there with the big ‘C’s in the creative world. I’m a little ‘c’ who applies my craft in the world of business – solving business problems through a creative process.
And it seems of late it’s what everybody is talking about. Big business has increasingly become interested in creativity and innovation, in part as a response to the pressures associated with globalization, competition, economic factors, and the rampant changes in technology. Companies and business leaders recognize creativity as their way to gain a sustainable competitive advantage. I think this recent quote from the CEO of IBM makes the point quite well, “Creativity is the key to success for our companies in the coming years – more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision.”
So the bad news is: you can’t pay lip service to creativity in the workplace.
If you want your company to be more creative you have to ask yourself: what you can do to promote and sustain creativity? How can you nurture a creative culture and are you doing anything that is stifling creativity?
If there’s one thing I know, creativity doesn’t just happen by chance. You can’t play window dressing with creativity. You either believe in it or you don’t. Nothing makes me cringe more than meeting people who think creativity is easy, the latest thing to have or a slogan they can wave in front of their clients. It needs commitment, understanding and long-term backing. If you want your company to embrace creativity, consider this checklist of factors that might prove useful to consider when assessing your organisation’s current creative climate:
Are your job descriptions too ridged? Think about letting employees have more choice in the types of activities in which they participate. This will give them a certain degree of autonomy and employees, who perceive that they have freedom or flexibility in how they perform their jobs, are also likely to feel free to be creative. Give them positive and complex challenges to stimulate them and the likelihood is that they’ll produce more creative solutions.
As a leader you can play a critical role in encouraging creativity. Be mindful when you set goals that you also set the boundaries to make the ultimate outcomes meaningful for the organisation. Creativity in business should always add value to your company. Build a culture that allows for a certain amount of risk taking. Being allowed to explore, go down blind alleys and starting over all play a critical part in the process of creativity.
Are your employees encouraged to work together, or do they work separately? Do you see them asking one another questions or debating problems to solve them? Employees who feel support from their co-workers and organisations are more likely to be creative.
Similarly, do your employees manage conflict among themselves, or with the help of their supervisor? Organisations that encourage and provide employee support for managing conflict may be unintentionally encouraging employee creativity efforts. Controlled conflict has been shown to facilitate creativity.
One of the most critical resources that will influence your employees’ creativity is time. Freeing your mind relaxes you and produces better creativity. Make sure they get scheduled time to generate new ideas and think about giving them the resources to help them get the information they need to be creative and discover insights.
Bumps in the road
Get rid of any obstacles in the workplace that block creativity. Workload pressures, employees held to stringent time pressures, or those who have a sizable workload are less likely to be creative.
It’s been proven that it is important for employees to feel the support of their supervisor in order to sustain the creative effort. Reduced workloads, providing extra funding or bringing in additional team members will all foster a better and more creative output.
We know that people who have an inkling of creativity come into organisations hoping to perform at high levels, to try new things, to excel and use their creative talent. However, rigid work policies and practices often drive creativity out of the organisational environment. In some organisations it does not take long for employees to learn that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. That is why organisations that desire to maintain and develop the creativity that people bring to the job, should be closely monitoring their organisational culture. The employee survey is probably the best method for doing that. It is important in these surveys to directly ask about creativity and innovation (Is it encouraged? Do you have what you need to be creative or innovative?) but it is equally important to ask about other aspects of culture that nurture creativity, such as having an environment where people with diverse backgrounds can succeed. Creativity comes about almost naturally in organisations; it is up to organisations to adopt policies and practices that nurture, rather than stamp out, creative instincts.
The best places I’ve worked in have been where I’ve been surrounded by a diverse mix of people (not all with a creative job title) where creativity is ultimately respected, even if not fully understood by everyone. I was taught by one of the legends in creativity, Tony Cullingham. He used to say that a blank sheet of paper was the most fearful thing a creative looks at before they start work. Inspiration, a passion for life, curiosity, a good brief and a long chat with colleagues soon gets ideas forming and the pages start to fill up.
Creativity and big ideas will never die because we crave the new, we want innovation and we hate boredom. It’s what drives all our lives forward.