In the endless quest for maximum productivity, where every minute and process is tracked and measured, too many companies have turned their backs on an essential aspect of progress that’s a bit harder to quantify. But while it may not fit on a spreadsheet, this quality is critical for any company that wants its business to thrive.
We’re talking about creativity, or the process of developing an idea or concept that is novel and/or identifies unique solutions to an issue the company may face. Among its many benefits, practicing creativity can help teams and companies solve problems, increase productivity, develop strategic goals, improve workplace cohesion and innovate so the company continues to progress and distinguish itself from its competitors.
It’s not surprising that creativity is critical to both successful entrepreneurship and long-term business success, particularly in today’s innovation-driven economy. But despite its benefits, research has found that many executives and employees currently feel their company isn’t set up to promote creative thinking. In one such survey, 35 percent of chief financial officers polled identified a lack of innovative ideas as the most significant obstacle to organizational breakthroughs.
To foster creativity in the workplace and begin building a better business, implement these nine techniques.
1. Enlist ideas from people throughout the company
It’s important to remember that the ability to think creatively isn’t limited to managers or certain hierarchies within a company. Every single person on your team has the capacity to share new perspectives or ideas, so make it a priority to enlist feedback from everyone involved in a project. And be sure not to rest full responsibility for innovation on the shoulders of just one person; it takes a team to develop a truly revolutionary new product or idea.
2. Reward creativity
In the pursuit of building a more creative workforce, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate creativity when it happens. If someone comes up with a new way to approach a workplace problem, be sure to recognize them for a job well done. Public validation helps other people see that the company values creativity. Even if an idea isn’t implemented, it’s important to recognize employees who offer new ideas. Encouraging and rewarding attempts at creative thinking can motivate employees to make creativity a daily priority.
In a similar vein, be sure not to punish employees for the failure of creative ideas; it’s critical to accept that failure is a part of innovation. Convey this thinking to the team so people trust they won’t be humiliated or punished if they make mistakes in the pursuit of progress.
3. Encourage (and hire for) diversity of thinking
It may be tempting to ask only your sales team to come up with a new approach to sales. But complex tasks require complex approaches. A team can increase the chances of innovation by enlisting the perspectives of people from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise. At times, this may mean consulting professionals outside of the company for their input. Don’t be afraid to do so if it means obtaining a more nuanced or holistic approach to a given project.
4. Design an engaging work environment
Gray cubicles, stale air, and windowless rooms hardly foster expansive thinking. Invest in your employees’ creativity by designing a colorful, visually appealing workspace that’s well lit and well ventilated. Also provide spaces and objects that encourage play, which is essential to creative thinking. Consider mimicking the legendary office designers at Google, Facebook, and LEGO with writeable walls, journals, pool tables, indoor gardens, and quiet spaces—all of which can encourage imagination. Try to structure the work area so it’s easy for employees to interact with each other, thereby fostering a collaborative environment.
5. Invest in professional development
Creativity increases when workers have the chance to learn new skills and pursue their own passions. Help cultivate an environment of curiosity and knowledge acquisition—and keep team members engaged in their work—by investing in employees’ professional development via trainings, conferences, classes and more. While you’re at it, make sure the company provides adequate opportunities for advancement (and compensation) so employees stay motivated to push the envelope.
6. Limit bureaucracy
Workers from all levels consistently agree that one of the biggest obstacles to creativity is bureaucracy. As much as you can, limit the number of hoops that employees need to jump through in order to share new ideas (and have them be heard). This promotes a culture in which workers feel motivated to think differently and speak up. That means making executives accessible to employees, communicating to employees that their ideas are valuable and welcomed, and streamlining the process for sharing and approving ideas.
7. Allow anonymity
Make idea sharing a democratic process by providing employees with multiple avenues to share ideas. Some people would rather not be the center of attention, or feel too nervous to offer new ideas when they’re not sure how the ideas will be received. Make sure everyone feels comfortable sharing the fruits of their creativity by implementing an anonymous suggestion box or allowing employees to suggest ideas directly to management without revealing their identity to the rest of the team.
8. Create a shared sense of purpose
By encouraging team members to brainstorm and work together, you’ll give employees a chance to bounce ideas off each other, thereby developing even better ideas in the process. Collective brainstorming can also help employees feel like their ideas matter, making them more invested in the ultimate outcome. It may be helpful to form smaller teams of three or four people tasked with developing creative ways to address a particular topic.
Allow this team-based mentality to inform all of your decisions, including who you hire. Look to hire people who are passionate about what they do, invested in the company’s mission and excited to work together with their coworkers for the greater good.
9. Set reasonable expectations and encourage self-care
If employees are constantly overworked, creativity will likely go down the tubes. Innovative thinking requires space and time to bubble to the surface, so employees who spending 60 hours a week glued to their desks are poorly positioned for creative thought. Address this issue by prioritizing burnout prevention: Encourage work-life balance, allow employees to take advantage of flexible schedules and/or work-from-home days, bring in reinforcements (such as temps or freelancers) if necessary and encourage employees to use their earned vacation. Set an example by taking vacation days, not skipping lunch and consistently prioritizing self-care.
Creativity can be learned. Empower employees to learn new skills, think independently and share their ideas. By cultivating a work environment designed to foster creativity, you’ll help employees and your business retain a competitive edge for years to come.