Creativity Is a Muscle. Start Workin’ It.
Creativity is a function of knowledge, curiosity, imagination, and evaluation.
There was a time when the concept of creativity was only associated with writers, painters, musicians and similar people in artistic professions. But with the ever-increasing need to cultivate a unique brand personality, creative thinking has transitioned from the arts into everyday business. Creativity at work is no longer a foreign concept in the 9-to-5 world. The act of producing a product or delivering a service that distinguishes itself from competitors in a marketplace where differences are often hard to come by, demands a high degree of creativity both in thinking and marketing.
In my former life as a consultant, one of the things I noticed was that in the early formulation stages of a team or a company, creative thinking is often at its most prevalent; employees are excited about the future; there are no limits to what they see to be possible; they’re the authors of their own destiny; imaginations run wild, and the desire to challenge the ‘norm’ and do things differently is welcomed. In short, work is an opportunity for adventure, discovery, learning, experimentation and leadership.
Yet over time, as a company grows and a culture of accountability is called for, what’s predictable is the implementation of more processes and procedures to support expansion and efficient ways of working, with a focus on delivering short term results. And as creativity can’t always be measured, it gets pushed to the way side, since performance demands measurement that allows you to identify what success looks like.
So how do you set up an environment that fosters creativity at work?
As with any other system, the process of creativity requires the proper framework to operate effectively, one that also allows management to evaluate the profitability of its results.
1. Recognizing, acknowledging and rewarding risk-taking efforts.
Companies serious about fostering creativity at work have to wrestle with two main issues: risk-taking and failure aversion. All innovation born out of creativity involves risk, and all risks include the possibility of failure. Encouraging employees at all levels to contribute suggestions for improving current business operations and to take risks, rewarding them for creative ideas, and not penalizing them when they fail is critical. Doing this you’ll enable people to more readily take on assignments that stretch their potential (and that of the company), discussing in advance any foreseeable risks and creating the necessary contingency plan.
Establishing a culture where failure is viewed as a learning experience, rather than something to be avoided, paves the way for risk-taking. If leaders and their organizations are afraid of failure, they will struggle to incorporate the creativity and innovation needed to truly meet customers’ needs. As Lisa Beebe says in her 7 Fool-Proof Ways to Be More Creative At Work, shake things up!
2. Fostering different points of view through outside perspectives.
Creativity can often spring from a review of how your customers view and use your products and services. Soliciting their opinions can provide valuable insight into potential areas for improvement as well as areas where you’re succeeding (essential knowledge for positioning against competitors). Other perspectives might include vendors, speakers from other industries, or consumers using a competitor’s products or services.
3. Distancing versus competing with the competition.
The companies that have done the best over the long haul are those that distance themselves from the competition rather than compete with them. If they see another company copying what they do, they create something new and better. In other words, they are able to leverage their creativity and their innovative and leadership capabilities to attain long-term success. The more creative and innovative you and your team members are, the more long-term success you’ll achieve.
So rather than trying to mimic the competition, bring creativity to what you’re currently doing. When you do, you’ll be regarded as the innovator – the one everyone else is trying to copy.
4. Regularly reviewing and questioning infrastructures to support productivity.
Make it a regular practice to review all the structures that you originally put in place to support efficient ways of working – meetings, systems, procedures; Question their continued viability and validity. When structures aren’t reviewed and examined, they become transparent, creating unconscious and repetitive patterns of operating, stifling creative thinking. Shake things up once in a while, invite out-of-the-box thinking from everyone, and do things differently…..even if at first it doesn’t make sense to the well-trained brain wired to predict and survive life. Like A Boss Girls contributor Samantha Citro has some great ideas around this in her Sunday Night Blues Buster series.
In short, creativity isn’t some mysterious force possessed by a chosen few over which leaders have no control. Progressive leadership does and can create an environment that fosters innovation and creativity at work – two important aspects that make up the lifeblood of an company no matter what its size is.