Seven (or More) Ways to Inspire Creativity at Work

What, only seven ways to inspire creativity in the workplace? Of course there are more. Consider this just the start.

Well let’s get to it and get the ideas flying.

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1. Biophilic Design

According to Walt Whitman, lounging, loafing, and looking at a blade of grass was pretty much all anyone needed to create a tome of creative work. Today, cropping up in company spaces from Google to government offices, biophilic design encourages creativity and healthy living by relieving stress. These designs incorporate waterfalls and gardens into a building’s architecture so that employees can lounge, loaf and look at blades of grass.

These glimpses of nature settle one’s stress and allow creative thoughts to manifest, resulting in not only epic-length poems, but source code and inventions.

2. Complete Silence & Gradients of Noise

Remember that scene in Fargo, when Steve Buscemi’s character reprimands his large and silent accomplice for never speaking? He rails against this “complete silence.”

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He should have considered what silence can achieve. For instance, would the big guy have been able to come up with the whole wood chipper idea if the hostage had maintained her screams? If Buscemi had talked the entire time? No. Grimsrud needed complete silence to figure out how to (almost) get away with it all.

This isn’t just about movies, though. Author Jonathan Franzen is known to put on earphones that play “pink noise” while other writers have taken to soundproof rooms. However, as author David Hendy writes in the Wall Street Journal, most of us need “that lovely background burble: just enough to paper over anything jarring, not so much that we can’t concentrate.”

In response to diverse creative needs, companies turn to hybrid work spaces. These spots are something between an open layout and cubicle space. Design firms like Steelcase specialize in creating diverse spaces that offer introverts the opportunity to enjoy complete silence (without, of course, plotting anything nefarious).

3. Ritualistic Behavior

As mentioned earlier, writers and artists can exhibit some strange, if not eccentric, behaviors. Whether trying to drown out jarring sounds with pink noise headphones, or tapping the floor nine times before beginning work, every creative person has a certain need for order.

Interruptions like meetings, emails, pressure and deadlines disturb internal rituals. When the mundane conflicts with the creative, the mundane seems to win.

Companies like iStock chose to cut down on “creativity killers” like excessive meetings, and have allowed more time for thinking.

Limiting structured, organizational behavior allows creatives to develop the rituals that work best for them, which can, in turn, increase the company’s creative capital.

4. Time

Creative capital isn’t built overnight. Creative people need space to daydream and kick ideas around. iStock’s employees need time to daydream about, say, blades of grass.

This need for time isn’t new. In fact, back in the 1950s, when new innovations seemed to occur weekly, companies like AT&T prioritized time for big ideas. Researchers from Harvard Business School point out the importance of “unstructured, unpressured” time.

Companies can make time by eliminating mundane tasks (as mentioned in #3), streamlining communication, or by hiring more people to work on various projects, which cuts down on turnaround time and eases stress surrounding deadlines.

5. Intrinsic Rewards

Since hiring more creative staff is most likely not an option, managers must learn to motivate their creative personnel without cramping creativity. One way around that sticky point is to understand what drives the creative mindset.

Creative people are motivated intrinsically. External pressures paralyze their processes and can make them resentful and unproductive. Managers can benefit from parents and teachers’ advice when considering strategies to foster intrinsic motivation and encourage creativity.

One way to navigate this is to understand that clear instructions and expectations don’t limit creativity. Clear expectations provide creative people with a challenge. Creativity only gets hampered when creative people aren’t given options or the opportunity to solve the problem. Give creative people the goal, but not the steps.

6. CrossFit for the Creative Mind

Don’t worry, this won’t be physically painful, but to generate new ideas, creatives may have to swallow their pride a bit and absorb ideas from others from different backgrounds and a host of unique experiences. Sometimes the operative verbs to innovate and home in on new ideas are to adapt, adjust and absorb new information.

In fact, researchers from MIT and University of California-Berkeley studied “absorptive capacity” and “open innovation” strategies and their efficacy. According to the article summarizing their findings in the Harvard Business Review, it’s not a bad method and has been extensively used in the past:

Business history is replete with examples of companies—from General Electric and Toyota to the design-intensive Electronic Arts, Pixar, and IDEO—that have tapped into the creativity of workers from a wide range of disciplines, as well as the creativity of users and customers, to become more innovative, more efficient, or both.

7. Create that Magic Formula

After thirty years of trying various strategies, SAS Institute developed a creative formula that has yielded 28 years of revenue growth. This software company has created distraction-free environments for its employees, facilitated customer engagement in product development and encouraged cross-fertilization (sounds grosser than it is) between departments.

Whether it’s holding days of silence, tweaking the physical workspace, or hosting a cross-disciplinary exchange, one of these seven ways, or a hybrid of a select few, can encourage creative growth, innovation and development in your company.

That, or take it from Dr. Seuss:

 nonsense-dr-seuss-creativity


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