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Creative Thinking in the workplace – Give it the time of day!

Everyone has the capacity to be Creative, whether it is in the workplace or in personal life. Like a muscle, our creative potential needs regular exercise to keep in tip-top condition. Some people are lucky enough to exercise it through their jobs; others rely on their hobbies and pastimes to give it a 'work-out.'

In our personal lives we probably exercise our creativity more than we realise, and there are many different avenues for expressing it. Joint activities with children are a great source of creativity, through telling stories, drawing, building, acting out scenes, and taking part in various games. Hobbies and pastimes also allow us to indulge the creative mind, whether it is in such things as music, art, gardening, decorating, sports or photography. And of course we are generally happy to prioritise time for these creative pursuits – apart from maybe when the children have worn us out!

Creative thinking in the modern workplace?

If you were asked what workplaces you considered to be 'Creative', what would your response be? You might typically think of industries such as TV & film, architecture, music, automotive, advertising, and generally businesses that we loosely associate with a degree of artistic flair. We are probably less likely to consider sectors such as legal, insurance and the financial services as Creative. Yet we only have to look at advertising on our TV screens and in newspapers to understand that high levels of creative thinking goes on in these industries with the new and alternative services they are forever trying to sell us!

Most business leaders in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced world accept that the need for Creative Thinking is great and that innovation is a must. Both are required to improve, re-invent and stay ahead of the competition. Yet, whilst creativity and innovation does happen in the workplace, our experience shows that it tends to be enacted through a relatively small number of people. A large number of employees in organisations can be left out of the creative loop - meaning that a huge amount of creative potential can remain untapped and benefits to the business bottom-line and the motivation and engagement of employees can remain unrealised.

A lament for untapped creativity

We know from talking to people that the concept of Creativity can feel unnatural, intimidating, out of reach or too difficult - that's why we do what we can to demystify creative thinking and make it relevant, applicable and doable for all! It's interesting when we ask during our seminars and workshops - "Who doesn't see themselves as creative?" it is typically followed by lots of squirming in seats and a gradual ripple of raised hands going up around the room.

Perhaps this is unsurprising though, given that many of today’s workplaces - through economic and market pressures - are primarily concerned with improving efficiency, streamlining processes, and updating IT and systems capabilities to enable this. The language you typically hear is “right first time”, “quick wins”, and other such statements that drive “urgent” behaviour. The implications are an increasingly short-term, results driven, operational focus and often an inhibition of creativity.

Now, we are not meaning to suggest that such operational activities are undesirable - quite the opposite they are fundamental to business success. Our take is that they can sometimes make an organisation 'blind' to the benefits of creativity and act against people choosing to make creative thinking part of their repertoire of essential workplace behaviours.

Finding time to get Creative

It may seem almost counter intuitive for us to suggest this… but businesses and their people need to plan and put structures in place to make Creativity happen!

Making time in today’s busy world of work is the key to tapping into a wider source of creativity for the “important” ideas and innovations that are required to develop grow and sustain organisations into the future.

Many of the leaders we talk to on our Creative Thinking programmes express a desire to be more creative and to have the time made available for them to do so. The disappointing thing for them to hear is that rarely will they be given express permission to be creative - instead it is something they must choose to prioritise for themselves. Our view is that Creative Thinking can be a regular part of everyone's roles (as long as we give ourselves the permission) and it involves building creative 'habits' in to what we do and how we work.

So, How do we do it?

Having some core techniques to use and the courage to try things out can yield some quick and often dramatic returns.

The truly great thing about Creative Thinking is that anybody can do it with the right stimulus, the right environment and a positive (dare we say, playful) frame of mind. Sometimes, to build leaders' confidence in deploying creative techniques with their teams or with larger group based events, professional facilitation can be a very worthwhile investment.

Having said this, the creative process is not rocket science, we can all do it and develop it. Our view is that it consists of a behavioural element and some supportive techniques/approaches (creative enablers). Briefly outlined below:

Core Behaviours - These include:

  • Being open/receptive to new stimuli, experiences and perspectives
  • Developing curiosity and seeking out fresh insights and understanding
  • Building ideas Collaborating with others in an organic way
  • Being disciplined in applying creative techniques (and choosing methods that will yield new or different angles on a problem)
  • Using clear communication and coaching to draw others in to the creative realm
  • A determination to demonstrate the return on creative investment
  • Showing a passion for creative pursuits and creative outcomes
  • Rewarding or reinforcing creative approaches in those around us
  • Taking a bold approach - being willing to 'take a less travelled path' or a 'leap of faith'.

Creative Enablers

Some organisations we work with allocate a set amount of time each month (a couple of hours or half a day) where employees can spend the time any way that they want (gaining new experiences and fresh insights) - Usually with a 'gentle' condition that they ultimately show the results of their activities back in the business.

Other companies encourage their staff to attend seminars, read articles and take part in other learning, which may not be exactly related to their positions but which provides new stimuli for workplace problems.

Through their commitments in the realm of Corporate Social Responsibility, some of our clients provide opportunities for employees to undertake volunteering activities in different environments to spark their imagination and nurture their ability to make creative connections back to their own workplace activities.

Offering workshops & seminars where creative thinking is required, with a trained facilitator to obtain maximum creative value, is another structure that innovative businesses embed. This is where we are often invited in to support clients in achieving creative outcomes.

On a personal level, individuals can make behavioural changes to enable their own creative mind to be exercised for the benefit of the business as well as themselves. Behaving in ways that constructively challenge the operational norm takes courage but can ultimately be extremely rewarding for both the individual and the organisation.

It's over to you - Get Creative!

So our take, here at NBA, is that we are all creative. We can all exercise our creative potential and show the value of this in the workplace outcomes we deliver. For this to happen, we need to develop the core behaviours and give ourselves permission to try some creative approaches. To gather momentum and prove its worth, Creative thinking in the workplace must be given the time of day!


Article by Stuart Morris & Damian Gregory - March 2013