Harness Creativity and Innovation with a Broad Brush

Harness Creativity and Innovation with a Broad Brush

Creativity is too often perceived as the domain of artists and visionaries but it isn’t just about artworks, extraordinary ideas and big innovators.

Creativity is a trait we all possess in some capacity. By fostering this ability in every employee, an organisation can unleash richer ideas and drive a culture of innovation that propels a business to succeed and thrive in today’s new normal.

As the pandemic unfolded last year, many businesses deployed strategies highlighting the benefits of creativity. Organisations responded rapidly with agility and creativity, pivoting or adapting their traditional business model almost overnight to stay afloat.

Creativity and innovation was at the heart of some of these decisions with new ideas harnessed to implement new practices, products or by adapting existing systems.

In late June 2020, Roy Morgan reported that more than 4.3 million Australians – just under a third of the working populace – were working from home thanks to businesses responding with innovative solutions to connect and manage workflow.

Creativity and innovation was also on show when some of Australia’s Gin distilleries responded with the production of hand sanitiser in early 2020 during nationwide shortages.

A pre-pandemic study by Forrester Consulting for Adobe found 82 per cent of companies believe there is a strong connection between creativity and business results. In fact, companies that actively foster creative thinking outperform their rivals in revenue growth, market share and competitive leadership, according to the report.

The study surveyed senior managers from more than 300 large global companies across a wide range of industries to gain insight on how creativity drives business.

How to encourage creativity and innovation

In the workplace, the creative response can come in many forms, from developing a bold new product to innovating services to improve the customer experience or it could be a small tweak to streamline a cumbersome internal process.

For employees to apply creativity within their workplace they need to be encouraged and supported to feel free to think creatively, which in turn can lead to the implementation of innovative ideas.

This requires business to embrace and state the value of creativity within the organisation. Regularly reinforcing it through recognition, and with an engagement strategy to create conditions for individuals and teams to be creative and innovative.

Research shows that people are more productive and engaged at work when given the opportunity to be innovators. This can lead to greater positive wellbeing outcomes such as:

  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Better performance
  • Improved relationships at work
  • Lower stress levels
  • Greater personal growth

Australian software company, Atlassian, promotes innovation as part of every employee’s job, embedding it as part of the company’s culture. Known for their out-of-the-box approach, Atlassian offers an insightful five-point innovation list:

  1. Innovation and creativity exist in everyone (it’s just that some of us have learnt to suppress it)
  2. Diversity of thought, skill, and background are essential ingredients for innovation
  3. Innovation can’t be forced
  4. People need time and space to let their creative, innovative juices flow
  5. All great human achievements are accomplished by teams

So, what are employers doing to make sure creativity thrives across all levels of an organisation? Here are five tips to engage employees and embed a culture of creativity in the workplace.

Encourage collaboration

Forging connections through collaboration and social time can lead to new ideas as people are introduced to diverse perspectives and pushed to think more deeply. Creating opportunities for employees to interact with other colleagues in different departments can help to gain an informed understanding of the company as a whole. By smashing the silo effect, individuals and teams can build connections and spark creativity to allow ideas and inspiration to flow across departments.

Keep things fun

Swedish researcher Göran Ekvall identified ten climate dimensions that affect creativity in organisations. One of those dimensions is a company’s sense of humour and playfulness. A relaxed atmosphere with lots of laughter goes a long way in defining your company culture, and also encourages the freedom to be creative.

Fun in the workplace can also foster more positive attitudes, help teams become more cohesive and develop stronger relationships, and help people deal with or recover from stressful work experiences.

Build trust and focus on psychological safety

In a workplace setting, psychological safety for an employee means knowing they can turn up and be themself without facing negative outcomes. Cultivating a positive relationship within a team or with a manager requires respectful interactions that occur in an open and trusting environment.

Leaders must help managers create workplace conditions that demonstrate management can be trusted and create an environment where everyone understands and adheres to the same values and rules about listening, sharing and respect.

Research has shown the benefits of psychological safety not only promotes creativity, it also increases team productivity, improves staff retention and promotes team learning.

Creativity makes people feel vulnerable, and it takes courage to offer a new idea. It’s easier for workers to find that courage if they know supervisors are supportive and encouraging – this includes making it okay for people to challenge assumptions and disagree with their manager.

Praising creative work is also important because, for most people to sustain their commitment, they must feel that their work matters to the organisation. Whenever possible, a leader should notice and publicly affirm creative thinking.

Promote creativity through office design

The design of a workplace plays a key role in fostering creativity, improving productivity and shaping a company’s culture. Ramp up the stimulation quotient within your environment by encouraging employees to bring in small decorative objects or photos from home, add beautiful artworks to spruce up plain walls and include office plants to help purify the air and bring a touch of nature inside.

Try adding a splash of colour and consider using dedicated office walls as idea spaces.

Zoning areas for recreation, collaborative work and focused activity may also help. Informal breakout areas can offer spaces for employees to sit and work independently or as small teams. Just add a few chairs, couches, standing high tables and whiteboard walls to encourage informal ideation among teams.

Get out of the office

Creativity in the workplace can occur outside of the physical workspace. A change of scenery can spark new ideas. Experiment with breaking up the routine by holding a brainstorm at a local café or off-site to facilitate a creative process.

Taking an outdoor break can also replenish the mind and body as the human brain uses more energy than any other part of the body. Encourage walks. A few minutes stroll can increase blood flow to the brain, which can boost creative thought.

Research has shown that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves creativity and brief mental ‘breathers’ may help employees to stay focused on their task and improve an idea generation approach. A structured downtime can help to promote better outcomes, so encourage employee breaks to give their brains some rest.