The concept of workplace creativity has undergone a massive transformation in the space of just a few short decades. Throughout most of the twentieth century, creativity—at least in the sense in which we use the term today—wasn’t really encouraged or welcomed in most business contexts. Back then, the emphasis was on top-down authoritarianism and centralized control, and innovation was something that happened only when the boss rubber-stamped it.

Fast forward to the early 21st century, when a complete reversal in organizational culture began to take hold at the height of the dot-com craze. Suddenly, ping-pong tables, pinball machines, and other accoutrements of adolescence began popping up in employee lounges across the country. More traditionally-minded companies that didn’t encourage on-the-job juggling and finger-painting workshops were derided as being stodgy and out of touch.

Today, the prevailing stance on workplace creativity has drifted back towards the middle of the spectrum. Organizational research has shown that creative firms enjoy a competitive advantage, but the zany excesses and “fun for fun’s sake” ethos of the early 2000s have long since fallen out of favor at most companies.

So is it possible to harness the proven business advantages of a creative workplace—such as improved problem-solving, greater innovation, and out-of-the-box strategies—without going off the deep end? According to the experts, even a few small changes can significantly boost your team’s ability to tackle problems creatively. Here are a few tips and tricks from leading workplace creativity experts.

Learn to recognize and channel creative energy in all its forms.  Sometimes, the kind of creativity that works in the workplace can be hard to recognize at first. Do you have a team member who is constantly bucking the norm? Another who tends toward conflict and contrary behavior? Both types of behavior could be misguided attempts at creative expression. Try to rein in these impulses and re-direct them towards positive goals.

Remind your team that failure is a part of the creative process.  Many people fear expressing themselves creatively in the workplace, often because they’re afraid that an out-of-the-box idea or suggestion will be rejected or shot down. They’re probably right! But that’s nothing to be upset about. Creativity experts say that even master artists at the peak of their powers only experience about a 25% success rate. Help your team get used to the idea of occasional failures and move past the irrational fear of rejection.

Stuck in a rut? Shake things up.  Neuroscientists have shown that you can actually influence your thinking patterns and kick-start your creativity by breaking out of your routine from time to time. If your team is stuck and can’t seem to generate any new ideas, try making a conscious break with the way you usually do things. Start with something as small as rearranging the office furniture, or make a major change like handing over control of a project to a different team for a few days. The shift in routine may help you turn a corner, creatively speaking.

Get into the creativity habit.  It’s widely believed that creativity is an innate talent that only a few lucky types are gifted with at birth. In reality, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Artistic talent is one thing, but creativity is more a habit of mind than a skill set. You can develop the habit of creative thinking simply by making a point of using it more often. As with any other muscle, experts say your creative thinking patterns will grow stronger and more useful with regular practice.

Make room for creativity in your firm’s bureaucracy.  Once your team has gotten into the creativity habit, it’s important to make sure you know what to do with all of the ideas and suggestions that are likely to be generated. Develop standard processes for brainstorming, for evaluating suggestions, and—most importantly—for implementing the best ideas.

Could your workplace use a bit more creativity, or are you more comfortable with a straight-laced, buttoned-down approach? Which techniques do you turn to when you need some out-of-the-box ideas? We’d love to hear your take in the comments.

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By: mvessel
Oct 6, 2008
4:59 pm