Creativity at Work

In my experience very few companies treat creativity like a job expectation and incorporate it into their performance development system.  A recent Gallup Survey shows that the three foundational factors needed to foster creativity are all too rare:

  1. Expectations to be creative at work
  2. Time to be creative

As a result, businesses are missing value that they should be capturing.


Creativity Should be a Business Asset

Most businesses are driven by the performance engine.  And as a consequence, most managers’ time is ruled by productivity, performance and profitability.  When the pressure of these elements is met, there is very little time left to encourage creativity in their teams.

A better business tactic is for managers to make creativity an expectation of every job role and to help team members develop their innovation skills.

But how do you coach the imagination?

Or assess an activity’s worth if it has no immediate dollar value?  Or put enough edges on the amorphous to make it measurable?

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The first step is to remove any barriers by giving workers the time, permission and freedom to be creative.

That feels like an explicit invitation to innovation.

Second, establish an employee experience that encourages workers to accept that invitation and put it to good use.  There is published data that shows there is a link between workplace engagement and creativity, and everyone recognises the link between innovation and market share.


Expectations to Be Creative at Work

Only 29% of workers strongly agree that they’re expected to be creative or think of new ways to do things at work.

While we are all capable of finding new ways to help our company succeed, we may not put in much effort, or feel welcome to, unless creativity is expressly required.

When team members have an idea for a better way to do their job or come up with market-moving products or services, they should be publicly recognised.

It’s flattering to be applauded for a good idea . . . even if that idea won’t work, someone else’s iteration of it can lead to big things.

Consider Play-Doh, for instance.  First manufactured by a soap company in the 1930’s, Play-Doh was sold as a wallpaper cleaner until an employee’s sister-in-law had a more creative idea:  Call it a toy and market it to kids.  Hasbro acquired the brand in 1991, and now Play-Doh is one of its best-selling products.

Most ideas are not going to be the next Play-Doh, but managers should make it clear that observing, thinking, making connections . . . basic creativity . . . is part of every team member’s job role and will be a factor in their performance development.


Time to be Creative

Leaders often schedule creativity into their calendar because building vision and strategy . . . a very creative endeavour . . . is part of their job expectation.

But lower level teams need to justify their time with discernable results.  Which may be why 35% of workers say they are only given time to be creative a few times a year or less often.  These creativity invitations are usually delivered in controlled conditions.

Even when employees strongly agree that they’re expected to be creative, only 52% of them say they’re given time to do so every day.

People with “creative” jobs, such as artists and writers, often say that good time management promotes creativity.

Perhaps discipline makes their creativity a more accessable resource or helps them organise their thoughts.  Maybe putting edges on creative time simply reminds them to ideate . . . real-world work can seem more demanding than blue-sky thinking.

Whatever the psychological process, scheduling time for creativity ensures that it happens, shows that creativity is a culture value to the organisation and gives managers something tangible to measure.

That last part can be tricky.  To assess the business value of creative time, managers may need to take a qualitative approach.

If you can’t measure the impact of creative time by revenue generation . . . and you really can’t, not until a new product is out . . . measure the intensity of team participation or the number of ideas that surface.

As Steve Jobs said, “You cannot mandate productivity, you must provide the tools to let people become their best.”

This article is based on data from Gallup’s 2017 American Workplace Survey.


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