We often think of creativity as something that’s difficult to harness -- that elusive “aha!” moment that strikes in the shower or when driving home from work. Companies have tried with mixed success to increase the chances of light bulb moments but creativity is still considered something you just have to “let happen.”
Yet, if you examine the science behind creative thought, you can isolate the elements that contribute to creativity and use these behaviors to benefit your company.
Element 1: Curiosity. This is one ingredient that nearly all creative geniuses have in common. Albert Einstein once wrote, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious,” and in his biography of Leonardo da Vinci, author Peter J. Gelb concluded that the root of da Vinci’s greatness was his “unrelenting quest for continuous learning.”
Marcial Losada, a psychologist and expert on team dynamics, found that the most successful teams exhibit a higher ratio of inquiry statements (asking questions) than advocacy statements (defending a point of view). For instance, if someone has an idea for a new marketing campaign, an inquirer might ask, “How quickly do you think we could roll that out?” Conversely, a statement of advocacy says, “That would take three months to roll out.”
Companies looking to increase creativity should start by encouraging employees to ask more questions.
Element 2: Outward thinking. Losada also discovered that the most successful teams make a higher ratio of “other-focused statements,” meaning they embrace outside points of view. So rather than focusing on themselves, they tend to shift their attention outward, informing their own work by collaborating and studying what others are doing.
In his book “Steal Like an Artist,” author and artist Austin Kleon says, “All creative work builds on what came before.” He has a point. Often, originality comes from combining, building on and improving ideas. Individuals and companies can be more creative simply by examining the world openly, absorbing new experiences and ideas and deciding what’s worth “stealing.”
Element 3: Positivity. Recent research shows that happiness in the workplace causes people to work harder and be more productive. What’s more, another study found that people are more creative when they feel happy and intrinsically motivated.
David Logan, Ph.D. and author of Tribal Leadership, points out that great teams move from thinking “I’m great” to “we’re great,” ultimately reaching the level of “life is great.” This positive outlook broadens your point of view and enhances your creative problem-solving abilities.
With all this supportive evidence promoting creativity, how can companies motivate employees to get their creative juices flowing? Here are Here are some tactics to cultivate these three elements and boost creativity within your company:
Organize lunch-and-learn events. Uncover your employees’ unusual skills and passions by organizing a monthly lunch event that allows them to share their cooking skills or love of vintage bikes. Your employees will learn something new while forming stronger relationships as they uncover common interests.
Invest in coaching for your employees. The ability to ask questions, focus on others and maintain positivity are teachable skills. Training from a life coach can give your employees tools they can immediately implement with customers and co-workers.
Shake up your meeting agendas. If your team has regular meetings, consider a few simple and impactful agenda changes. Opening meetings with good news will stimulate more positivity on your team. When discussing problems, incorporate five “whys” to help employees examine the issue with greater curiosity and understand the cause of the problem. To encourage more other-focused behaviors, ask meeting participants to acknowledge and thank other team members when reporting their own progress and successes.
Incorporate creative time. Google is known for its “20 percent time” policy; Facebook is known for its hackathons. When possible, give employees time to work on projects of their choosing to cultivate curiosity. (Employees can attend a Startup Weekend event to get their creative juices flowing.)
Ask your employees. Not sure what other tactics will encourage creativity among your employees? Be a model of curiosity by asking them yourself. Your team is likely to have great suggestions.
Don’t wait around for ideas to strike in the shower. You can orchestrate more creative breakthroughs. Just harness the power of science by embracing curiosity, looking to others and cultivating a positive outlook at your company. You’ll be amazed by the results.