If You Want More Lasting Creativity on Your Team, You Need to Rethink Your Approach

Here are three things you can do differently to transform your team with creativity.

learn more about Monica H. Kang

By Monica H. Kang

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Organizations today crave more creativity, but why aren't they getting it? Most companies attribute creativity as the key ingredient that fuels big ideas and opens new doors to success. Despite this, the vast majority of professionals don't believe they are creative. In fact, 87 percent of the global workforce feels like they're stuck and lack a creative outlet. There is a major disconnect between what companies want and what professionals feel like they can provide. The message is simple: Whatever we are doing in the workplace to foster creativity is not enough.

Related: How to Unlock Creativity and Discover Your Personal Genius

As a creative educator and entrepreneur, it has been an exciting journey to witness more companies take proactive measures to bring creativity into the workplace. From introducing empathy and creativity trainings to their teams and putting more whiteboards in the office for better brainstorming, to going as far as creating creative rooms to spark innovation, an increasingly large number of companies are trying new things in an attempt to foster creativity. At the same time, I also hear frustrations and concerns from employees. Despite these efforts, they do not feel like leadership is supporting and encouraging everyone's creative ideas and are unsure of where these efforts will lead. Ultimately, creativity only seems to be creating more work and stress in these workplaces than opening up new opportunities. Sound familiar?

As the leader of your company, you probably know just how complicated creativity in the workplace can be. Before you put up another whiteboard to hold the next brainstorming session, try rethinking your approach to creativity first. To give you a head start, here are three things you can do to organically foster creativity for your team and company:

1. Rethink how you define creativity and how you walk your talk.

It does start from the top down. How you, as a leader, define creativity ultimately trickles down to how your team perceives creativity in the office. Are you limiting creativity in the workplace by using it interchangeably for design thinking, improv or product development? How do you respond when your team brings up fresh and novel ideas that fall outside of what's considered normal?

If being creative is as important as you say it is, how are you making time to be creative in your daily routine? Your people are observing and learning from you, both consciously and subconsciously. Everything you do (and do not do) is sending a message to your team of what they can do.

Everyone is creative differently and gets inspired in different ways. So, before you criticize your team for not being creative enough, ask yourself how you are encouraging all kinds of creativity. Can you really expect your team to think and do things differently if they are being limited to your own definition of creativity?

Related: How 9 Creative Minds Got Their Ideas (Infographic)

2. Create and communicate clear boundaries where your team can experiment and do things differently.

Most employees continually seek to perform better and to bring value to the work they do. Consequently, their focus centers on doing things they know can bring a positive contribution to the team and pivot from doing things that may cause disruption, or are unprecedented. As a leader, you have to be mindful that your team seeks safe routes when they're not sure whether experimenting is okay. But it's not irreversible. You can change this dynamic by creating and communicating clear boundaries within which your team can feel safe to experiment. For instance:

  • You can dedicate the first 15 minutes of your next meeting to doing something different, like creative activities or a discussion on an article from a completely different topic.
  • You can give people permission to co-create and propose new operational procedures that improve efficiency and productivity.
  • You can make the professional development fund more lenient so that people feel encouraged and comfortable to use it in their own ways.
  • You could also introduce some playfulness amidst all the gravity and seriousness. For example, dedicate a room where you are permitted to decorate, play card games or put together puzzles to spark creativity.

Be consistent in helping them understand how and where to be creative. The more clearly you communicate boundaries, the easier it will be for your people to try out fresh, unusual and innovative ideas and have better clarity on how much room they have.

Related: 10 Tips and Tricks to Become More Creative

3. Communicate how you will reward and recognize creative efforts.

One of the biggest reasons people stop doing things differently is because they see no clear incentive to continue doing so in the long run. While a pat on the back is nice, if their hard work has no impact on how they are evaluated, rewarded or promoted, they will likely stop making time for it. It can be disheartening to see their colleagues who simply followed the rules get promoted faster or recognized more.

If you are in senior leadership, think about how you can add clear incentives and rewards to make more space and time to be creative. As a manager, think about how you can reward and celebrate your team members who step up to share creative ideas or lead such efforts. When there is a clear, consistent feedback loop that shows what happens when someone takes action to be creative, it will be an incentive for your people to want to do it.

While these suggestions may sound simple from the outset, they will challenge you to rethink your approach. Creativity in the office should not just be a buzzword; it should be integrated into the philosophy of your workplace. And as the leader of your organization, start by integrating creativity into the work culture. Not only will you make a lasting impact on your team, but it will also start creating a lot of ripple effects throughout your overall organization.

What will you do today to rethink creativity?

Monica H. Kang

Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox

Monica Kang is the founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, a creative education company helping companies tap into their most underutilized resource: their employees' creativity. An entrepreneur, professor and author of Rethink Creativity, Kang is passionate about creativity and innovation at work.

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