In increasingly crowded markets, innovation is as essential as ever in allowing your business to stand out from the crowd, but creativity is not just for the marketing and engineering departments. Creative openness and an internal free market of ideas have been shown to increase employee engagement and retention, and a recent LinkedIn study has revealed creativity to be the most in-demand soft skill in the world. This trend is only set to grow as artificial intelligence automates the most repetitive, less creative jobs.
The most important aspect of cultivating creativity in the workplace starts at the top. Developing a culture that is open to new ideas is essential when cultivating a creative workplace, but many companies have developed a culture of fear of failure. Without embracing failure, people and companies cannot be truly innovative, as employees will be afraid of pushing the limits for fear of missing the target. Leading by example by exhibiting outside-the-box, fear-free thinking from the boardroom down can work wonders for company-wide creativity.
Creating a fear-free environment starts on day one of a new employee’s journey with a company. Walking new employees through the list of successes in your company is nothing new, but taking them through the failures and the results of the failure shows new starters that failure can lead to better things. In 1956 Wilson Greatbatch set to work on building a heart rhythm recording device. Whilst delicately putting together the various components Wilson made the age-old mistake of grabbing the wrong component out of his box of resistors and wired it into the circuit. When he turned it on, he heard the unmistakable rhythmic sound of the human heart – he had inadvertently invented the first implantable pacemaker and saved millions of lives during the process of utterly failing to make a heart recording device. Mistakes aren’t always bad and failure can sometimes spark innovation and improvement, so your new starters need to know where you went wrong, and what you did to grow from it.
A more innovative work environment makes employees feel more valued, motivated and included in the overall workings of the business, and leads to higher contentment, higher employee satisfaction and lower staff turnover. On top of these softer benefits, innovation at lower levels also leads to innovation on a company-wide scale, resulting in higher competitiveness and keeping your business at the front of the pack. One shining example tops Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to work for: Hilton. Large multinationals often struggle to ensure innovation is fostered in every level of the company, but Hilton has implemented several schemes to encourage innovative thinking, such as their ‘Millennial Team Member Resource Group’, aimed at young members in the company who would otherwise feel ignored. In smaller companies, leaders have the strongest influence on the perception of innovation at their company, with employees with approachable managers 31 times more likely to rate their company as innovative.
How can we design our workplaces to better capitalise on our inherent creativity? When looking at the most creative time to be creative, a recent study released by the MPA Group found that across the UK the average time for optimum creativity was 11:05am, and more specifically 10:30am for scientists, 11:15am for salespeople, 11:21am for technicians and 11:54am for engineers. The same study also indicated that quiet offices were most conducive to creativity, with 43% of workers claiming this is when they have their most innovative ideas, and that introducing some plants in the workspace could boost creativity. A study by Exeter University also concluded that considering biophilic design by adding plants to the office can increase productivity by up to 15%, alongside reducing stress, heart rate and blood pressure levels.
Natural light sources and carefully selected colour schemes can also be beneficial to creativity in the workplace. With most of us spending around 80% of our time indoors, natural light is another great way of bringing the outside in, and well thought out colour schemes can be a huge boon to innovation. Greens, blues and yellows can be incorporated to foster feelings of creativity and positivity, whilst reds and oranges should be avoided as they can induce feelings of anxiety and stress.
Training, whether through external providers or peer-based learning, can spark great ideas in teams and spur employees on with a new sense of purpose. By taking new ideas and working them into tried and true processes, employees will often develop innovative ways of working which can influence whole teams and increase productivity and creativity. New methods of training such as microlearning on mobile devices and social learning through platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams have changed the way we think of training, allowing training to be accessed at will, in small, bite-sized chunks.
Outside of organised learning, many companies have found success in encouraging independent reading, or even audiobooks in order to spark innovative thinking. Regular book clubs, ‘books of the month’ or audiobook service subscriptions can broaden employee’s minds and allow them to gain insight from avenues they might not normally delve into.