The benefits of putting in place a culture of creative thinking is huge. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, and creativity isn’t the preserve of the traditionally UK creative industries or roles either. Every employee can have good ideas, so businesses should encourage everyone to be open about their thoughts.
Creativity does demand divergent thinking though – the best solutions come from unconstrained thought. The trouble is, most businesses aren’t set up to get employees thinking in this way. It requires too much white space where people are given the necessary time to think properly – and time is money.
Additionally, leading entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan ties creativity to collaboration – “Something that happens between people, not in people”. So, a culture of teamwork (and the tools to collaborate) are essential to create the best environment for creativity to flourish.
So below are five practical things businesses should consider to boost creative thinking among employees.
(1) Mix things up – for creativity to thrive, diversity is needed
The magic rarely happens when the same people are in the same room all the time, so mix things up by bringing together different groups of people from across the business to get left-field solutions or external people from other industries to bring new perspectives to the table. Hosting sessions in a different location or environment also helps to spark the creative thinking process.
(2) Make people feel safe and encourage them to be resilient
For people to take risks, they must feel safe. Psychological safety is a key factor in helping people implement creative ideas. As researchers Promila Agarwal and Elaine Farndale found: “Creative implementation can potentially involve conflicts with colleagues, less satisfactory social relationships, fear of failure, fear of losing one’s job, diminished rewards and benefits, and losing reputation.”
Therefore, it helps to create a work environment in which people have high autonomy, and certainty, in which all opinions are valued and heard, where people are clear about what they’re there to do, and understand the businesses’ strategic objectives.
Workplace culture and design are intrinsically linked. There is no point in having collaborative creative spaces if there is no mechanism to let employees feel free to use them.
(3) Understand the challenges sparking creativity and how they fit into your business model
There are three main ways that creativity and innovation happen. The first is to solve a specific problem, such as Boyan Slat’s Ocean Clean Up. Second, a new technology or way of doing things emerges, and people try to think of new ways of using it (Like the Story of Graphene). Finally, sometimes someone thinks there ought to be a way of doing a particular thing and goes looking until they find it.
(4) Use tools and techniques to get people thinking in different ways
Researching different tools and techniques to encourage creative thinking is a great place to start. For example, techniques like storytelling are something anyone can do and help bring words to life. In addition, stories provide the emotional context by which individuals evaluate what’s going on in their world. They make sense of it, and build up a set of beliefs about the present and the future.
Going a step further to assess different thinking styles through tools, such as Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation Inventory, can help to see how team members like to approach creativity, problem-solving and decision-making.
(5) Embrace failure and take risks
Not every idea is going to be as successful as the iPhone, but failure – and learning from it – is an essential part of the creative process. This has been expertly illustrated by innovation consultant Eugene Ivanov. He believes that instead of talking about how the business accepts failure and assigns no blame, specific policies and processes should be in place to make it structurally possible to fail without negative consequences.
Implementing any of these aspects will get a business closer towards having more creative employees. However, one thing to remember is that generating ideas is just the first step – for creativity to have any value, ideas must be implemented into new products or ways of doing things.
Charlie Widdows is founder of Solverboard
Despite dozens of innovation-boosting initiatives, great ideas get stuck never making it out of research journals, and potentially great companies flounder because inventors lack the skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs.
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