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Creativity at Work – Part Three

Create a work environment that allows space and time for creativity

Create a work environment that allows space and time for creativity

In a new video series, Text 100 seeks to illuminate questions about creativity. Creative professionals give insight into their views, secrets and strategies relating to creativity. The following post is part three of a related article series on creativity at work, trying to answer the following questions: How can everybody be (more) creative? Why is creativity important to work in PR and other areas? How can companies foster innovation?

If you go to the Fast Company list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies, or judge by the number of patents filed, it becomes obvious that creativity and economic success often go hand-in-hand. The world’s most creative companies seem to be doing something right. But the question as to what it is and how they get there is as crucial as it is difficult to answer. On one hand, innovation management is its own discipline implemented by blue chip companies to make sure they make the best out of their employees’ ideas. On the other hand, like book author Jens-Uwe Meyer explains, many innovation management processes seem to have the opposite effect, stifling creative thinking and innovation. Most often, this happens because the processes have been developed out of fear of failure, not applying Edward de Bono’s quote as a principle: “In general it is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.”

Then again, there are companies who don’t seem to have any visible innovation management (apart from maybe a foosball table next to the kitchen). And yet, they live and breathe creativity in anything they do. So what’s the secret and how do you get it right? In my opinion, you can crystallize the secret of fostering creativity down to three points:

1. The work environment – a time and a place for play

Our work environment is typically characterized by high pressure and continuous interruptions. Between meetings, phones and Twitter updates, it’s not easy to find a quiet minute. At our Munich office, we have people who will lock themselves in the conference room if they have to think creatively. They put into practice what John Cleese explains in a video speech: To be creative, we need to get into a mood where our unconscious can come out to play. John Cleese recommends creating a sort of oasis, a safe place with clear boundaries of space and time. If you need a creative solution, try to find a space that avoids interruptions and give yourself a starting and a finish time. This allows your unconscious mind to play, to develop new ideas.

For a company, this means allowing this time and space for their employees. Companies like 3M or Google are perfect examples: They allow their employees a certain amount of time that can be spent on their own projects. The ominous table soccer is a simpler method: Apart from the fun, it works as a clear sign for employees that they are allowed to unwind from the continuous ticking off of tasks, and can rest their mind for a moment – to then, ideally come back with fresh ideas.

2. The team – a group of people inspiring each other

One person at a time can only be as creative as – one person at a time. And it’s no secret that in creativity one and one makes more than two, meaning that a team of people can be more creative than all those people working separately. The best ideas, however, explains Birgit Heinold in our creativity video series, are generated in interdisciplinary teams. People with different backgrounds can inspire each other and create a new creative dynamic. This is not only relevant for the skillset, but also for the types of personalities involved: To achieve great results, you can, for example, have an inspiring Creator work together with an Owner who will add relevancy and a Broker who has a valuable network.

In practice, this means creativity is also a task for HR: Companies need to be open to employees who are a bit different. When building a team, it makes sense to analyse the existing skillset and make a conscious decision about which personalities with which background should ideally work together. And last but not least, this is also a call for companies to let people be themselves. Bringing in their own personality and perspective will enable employees to contribute more easily to creative solutions.

3. The leadership – an open, no-fear atmosphere

Finally, all those efforts will be lost if company leadership doesn’t estimate the creative potential and contributions of each team member. Tyron Montgomery explains the actions a team and/or company leader needs to take to make employees more creative: Allow for direct communication across hierarchy levels, integrate people into the creative processes, and challenge your team. Allow for trial and error and finally don’t rule top down but share responsibility and also the success with the team.

In the PR business, agencies sometimes discuss the question if, like advertising agencies, they need a Creative Director to foster creativity in their daily work. I think the answer is just the same as for dedicated innovation management processes: You don’t necessarily need them and having them is no guarantee for making your company creative. The most important step to foster creativity is taking it seriously and not assuming it will come naturally. The three points from above then go hand-in-hand: Establish an open leadership culture. Build inspiring teams. And create a work environment that allows space and time for creativity.



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