Most people think creative organizations have to be young startups or innovative tech companies like Google. Creative employees sit in bean-bag chairs or ride bikes through the office, just waiting to come up with the next great idea.
However, any company or department, whether a massive organization with offices across the country or a local small town accounting firm, has the power to tap into creative thinking. Creativity isn’t limited by size, business or industry; only by the people who use it.
Here are a few tips for any leader who wants to tap into the power of creativity in the workplace, from CEOs who want to revolutionize their offices to junior managers who want to help their teams think.
Creativity is the Driving Force in Your Workplace
Before anyone can add creativity to their workplace, they need to know why it’s important. By setting goals for incorporating creative thought, managers can focus their creative efforts in ways that will have large impacts on their businesses.
Harriet Genever, SaaS specialist, curated some enlightening statistics on the LivePlan blog about the value of creativity in the workplace. Among them include:
60 percent of CEOs believe creativity is the most important leadership skill (beating out integrity and global thinking).
80 percent of people believe creativity is a clear driver of economic growth.
76 percent of millennials who work in creative and inclusive environments say they have higher levels of productivity.
Only 25 percent of employees feel like they’re living up to their creative potential, and 75 percent of employees feel under more pressure to be productive than creative.
Creativity is a highly-valued tool to grow companies and lead departments, yet most workers feel like they aren’t able to be creative and aren’t encouraged to do so. Companies can tap into this creativity to improve productivity and office culture.
There’s also qualitative data to back up the above statistics. Several managers have reaped the benefits of tapping into employee creativity and giving workers the right channels to share their ideas.
“Most people are far more creative than they give themselves credit for,” Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, writes. “In my experience, if people are given the time and opportunity to express themselves, the ideas and insights they put forward are truly eye-opening — especially if it’s a topic they’re passionate about.”
Even if the desire to incorporate creativity into your workplace is there, changing how your employees think and solve problems takes work. These steps are meant to provide ideas for infusing creativity into your office processes and creating opportunities for employees to think outside the box.
Create a Supportive Work Environment
Your work environment says more about your options for creativity than your department, company or industry. Creative cultures are fostered by management, and can be found in even the most traditional businesses.
“The first step to encouraging creativity in the workplace is to be supportive,” Adam Fridman founder of Mabbly Digital and ProHabits, writes at Inc. “Risk-taking is a necessary part of creative thinking, and managers should understand that not all ideas will always pan out.”
If can employee is criticized for coming up with a bad idea or failing at a new opportunity, they’re unlikely to try again. Without a supportive environment, creativity is stifled, not embraced.
So what does a supportive environment look like, and how can managers create one to foster better creative ideas?
Break Down Strict Hierarchical Structures
Developing a flatter organizational structure where employees on all levels of the company feel valued can increase creativity and support when everyone shares their opinions.
“When there’s no wrong question and everyone is comfortable to voice his or her thoughts, the collaboration begins,” Jojo Hedaya, co-founder of Unroll.me writes. “Problems become solutions and ideas become innovations.”
By hearing all voices in your organization, you will be exposed to new ways of thinking you had never considered before.
Set Up Channels for Anonymous Idea Submissions
Software engineer Tony Ferraro encourages managers to create anonymous channels for ideas. Not every worker is up for the risk of publicly airing their thoughts and trying to implement new plans — especially newer employees or entry-level team members.
By creating tools for anonymous feedback and ideas, managers can tap into the minds of shy workers without bringing them into the public spotlight. Plus, if these team members see their ideas succeed, they might be more inclined to speak up publicly next time.
Derive Lessons and Examples from Failure
Failure is an underrated asset to a company, and more organizations are learning to embrace failure as a learning opportunity for the staff.
Erika Petrelli, senior vice president of leadership development at The Leadership Program, shares how companies embrace failure and creativity in employees.
Successful companies create a “no blame” culture for failure, where instead of shaming specific employees, the whole team looks for ways to improve. Furthermore, employees in these cultures know they won’t be fired for trying and failing, and that failing means the organization is just one step closer to finding the right solution.
By evaluating how your organization handles failure and supports employees overall, you can see whether you’re encouraging creativity or stifling it.
Dedicate Time to Boost Workplace Fun Levels
So many professionals are attempting to combine fun with work to improve creativity and productivity that there’s a market for fun specialists. Nat Measley, former CEO at The Fun Dept., specialized in increasing fun within teams. He listed several benefits of adding fun to any company and making the office environment enjoyable:
Fun boosts organizational health as workplace camaraderie and emotional intelligence rises.
Productivity actually increases because employees approach problems with clear heads.
Employee retention increases, which also helps workplace culture and productivity.
Team members stay actively engaged in the success of a company and want to work toward reaching its goals.
While some managers view fun employee activities as an expense, the long-term benefits can provide a positive ROI for an organization. Fun boosts confidence and fresh thinking, which leads to higher levels of creativity.
How to Add Fun to Any Workplace
The team at Hppy explain that companies don’t need expensive resources or large teams to embrace fun. A few suggestions for adding fun to the workplace include celebrating small wins by employees, decorating for events and holidays, setting up communal areas to meet or play, and sharing events for workers to enjoy outside of the office.
It doesn’t cost anything to host a Halloween desk-decorating contest or encourage employees to meet for kickball at the park after work.
While fun is easy to add, it also takes dedication. Some companies to want to create a fun environment, but cancel or ignore bonding activities during stressful weeks and months. In a bad quarter, the concept of creating fun can be completely forgotten.
“Make it a habit to evaluate morale in your workplace; if it’s suffering, a break for fun can lift spirits and boost success,” Barry Saltzman, CEO of Saltzman Enterprise Group, writes. “Give your team a chance to enjoy themselves; it’ll undoubtedly create a friendlier, happier, and all-around healthier environment for everyone.”
Setting up quarterly surveys of activities and their performance can help management ensure that fun hasn’t been forgotten.
Embrace Creativity In Traditionally Non-Creative Roles
One of the most dangerous workplace myths is that only some employees are creative. The idea that some roles call for creativity (like graphic designers) while others reject it (like accounting) can lock employees into a way of thinking.
“Although many people seem to believe that the world is divided into creative and non-creative people, creativity is not a skill that is unique to particular people,” the experts at TranslateMedia write. “All humans have the potential to be creative, however they require opportunities and encouragement to express this creativity.”
The role of a manager is to foster creativity in all departments and all levels, even in employees who don’t think they have creative or artistic visions.
Create Autonomy to Encourage Problem Solving
Sometimes creativity comes in the form of experimental problem solving. When managers take a step back, employees have to flex their muscles and come up with solutions on their own.
“Employees don't need the autonomy to decide which project to work on, but they must have the autonomy to choose how to work on it,” Yoram Solomon, founder of Large Scale Creativity, writes.
Even employees who don’t think they’re creative can enjoy coming up with new solutions to problems. This only happens when managers take a step back and create an autonomous workplace.
Highlight Good Ideas and the People Who Have Them
As your team starts to embrace creativity, look for ways to highlight team members who make progress and showcase their ability to break the mold.
“Failing to recognize a staff member’s great idea or (even worse) taking credit for someone else’s work, is one of the biggest mistakes a manager can make,” the team at Vitamin T writes.
They admit that it can be hard to pinpoint exactly who came up with what idea, but the small moment of recognition could mean the world to an employee — especially if they never thought of themselves as creative problem solvers before.
Adjust the Physical Workspace to Foster Creativity
You don’t have to invest in a million-dollar remodel to make a work environment more creative. In fact, simply encouraging employees to own their space and decorate it however they like can make them feel more comfortable when they enter the office.
“By giving your team the freedom to be themselves at work, you create a space in which you can really build a community,” the team at Cube Workspace writes. “People are more innovative and creative in spaces where they can act natural. A comfortable environment inspires people to take risks.”
Risk-taking makes people uncomfortable. If you can increase comfort levels in other ways, even in the physical environment, your team might feel better about taking creative leaps.
Set Up Spaces for Collaboration and Teamwork
The team at Milliken Floors share their top 10 creative office layouts and explain how the format leads to increased creativity. There’s a common theme to the elements that make or break a creative office space: it is collaborative layouts.
For example, the Zipcar offices in Boston use a combination of open workspace and private meeting rooms for increased collaboration and creativity. A team can find a corner to come up with ideas in private, or open the brainstorming session up to other teammates while working at their desks.
An open floor plan isn’t a requirement to increase teamwork, but can be one of the ways managers can make it easier for employees to chat and work together.
Add Natural Elements When Possible
Increasing creative elements in your office can also be as easy as changing your lightbulbs or adding some plants. Natural elements like greenery and soft lighting make people feel more comfortable, while creating visual stimulation that excites the brain.
“Let’s face it, nothing screams ‘creativity void’ like fluorescent lighting and drab gray walls,” blogger Hilary Fink writes at Spaces Inc. “Consider replacing your lightbulbs with warmer or natural lighting and painting a few walls in fresh, timeless colors.”
If painting isn’t an option or in the budget, Fink suggests adding art to the walls, or (better yet) call for submissions by employees.