Creativity isn’t important just for artists and musicians, nor is it a superfluous “add-on” quality that’s nice to have in a workforce. If you want your employees to be a team of fearsome, productive, insightful players for your brand, you need every member to be at his or her creative peak.
Creativity after all allows for alternative solutions to tough, complex problems. It allows for new ideas to emerge and reshape your assumptions. It helps people improve their workflows and approaches, and most importantly, it inspires people, leading to a happier, more invested team.
So, does this mean you should hire only the most creative people for your team?
Not necessarily. You see, even though some people might be born with a higher tendency toward creativiity, that doesn’t mean everyone else is inherently less creative. Everyone has some degree of a spark within them -- you just need to do the work of allowing that creativity to flourish. Hiring naturally creative candidates may help, but your primary goal should be to create an environment that nourishes the creativity in everyone.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Allow flexible work schedules.
Flexibility programs involve a deconstruction of the mandatory “9-to-5” workday. Such programs may allow for flexible hours, work-from-home days or even unlimited vacation -- the point is to have some degree of flexibility to accommodate multiple types of people.
Studies have consistently shown that flexible schedules lead to higher rates of overall productivity and higher job satisfaction, a finding which by itself should encourage you to adopt such a flex-time policy; but, even better, it leads to more creativity. When workers aren’t fixated on precise punctuality, waiting out the clock, or rushing back from lunch, they have more time to decompress and land naturally on abstract solutions. To lean on an overused buzz-phrase, you’re letting your employees “work outside the box” in order to “think outside the box.”
2. Encourage breaks.
Again, allowing for breaks is nearly proven to increase employees' productivity and job satisfaction; just don’t neglect their ability to improve creative thinking, as well. Building breaks into your work culture gives work less of a “grindstone” feel and more of an active choice.
When your staffers aren’t pressured to complete a task, they can approach it in a more relaxed, thoughtful way; instead of trying to force the square peg into a circle hole, they'll have the freedom to walk away, casually think about the problem and ultimately come to a correct alternative solution on their own terms.
3. Listen to new ideas.
One of the biggest creative limits in business isn’t the absence of creativity altogether; it’s the fact that the creativity that's there isn’t heard. Your workers might be coming up with cool, creative, clever ideas, but if they don’t feel comfortable bringing those ideas to the surface, you’ll never hear about them.
To resolve this discrepancy, institute a personal policy to listen to every new idea -- even bad ones, and ones that go against your thinking. You don’t have to act on them, but you do have to value them, give honest feedback and reward employees for bringing them up. Doing so regularly will cultivate an atmosphere of positive idea generation, which should self-perpetuate over time.
4. Fill your workplace with sensory experiences.
Most creative experiences come from combining two seemingly unrelated ideas. Encouraging the flow of non-sequitur ideas through sensory experiences can help employees find new inspiration.
For example, you might hang thought-provoking abstract art on the walls, reguarly fill the office with new scents or play unconventional music through your loudspeakers. Doing so will help employees think in new ways and become more stimulated by their environment. As an added bonus, most of these additions have a calming or satisfying effect on people -- so your team will feel happier and be more productive in addition to being more creative.
5. Facilitate a team mentality.
It’s rare that a creative idea just spontaneously pops into one person’s head. The best business ideas I’ve seen are actually ones that were tinkered with and added to after being discussed with partners, investors and team members. Creativity, then, is a team sport, so you should make it your responsibility to help your team members work together.
So, facilitate a “team” mentality by tearing down the walls of your office, conducting team exercises and giving your teammates opportunities to bond with one another. Doing so will help them trust each other, and work together to bring new ideas to life.
Creativity doesn’t come naturally to everybody, but under these suggested conditions, you’ll find your employees have more ideas, better outlooks and more intriguing solutions to the problems that vex your business. The more you work together and the more comfortable your team grows in your creative environment, the better you’ll all become at coming up with creative ideas.
Before you know it, you may have nurtured to maturity your very own class of new entrepreneurs.