Time after time, creativity shows up on lists of the most sought-after qualities of leaders and employees. Lots of people would describe themselves as creatives; they consider themselves “idea people,” like to create, or work in the arts. As such, many people think that creativity is something you’re born with and that creative people will lead creative lives, going on to be the Steve Jobs and Nikola Teslas of the world.
As it turns out, though, creativity is a skill that can be cultivated and developed. This means – prepare yourself – everyone can be creative. From interns to chief financial officers to novelists to biology majors, creativity is available for all!
We asked some leaders for expert tips on how to be creative, no matter where and what you do for work.
Environment Is Everything
One of the first steps to getting creativity out of your team is to set them up in an environment where creativity thrives. A creative workplace fosters more teamwork and collaboration, better productivity, and improved problem solving, as well as boosted morale and employee retention. So how can you build a better work environment?
Mae Demdam, the marketing manager at WireSeek.com, shared how they keep their analysts, designers, and developers inspired and excited about coming to work, saying, “We have a break room with a bar top equipped with iPad [A]irs, a library with free books to check out, games and lounge areas where our employees can relax after intense project deadlines. We want to have an environment that our employees are comfortable in so that they can perform to their highest ability.”
Not everyone has resources to equip their break room with iPads or stock a library with books. But what are some ways you can make your office environment more fun, friendly, and ultimately creative and collaborative? Depending on your type of work and budget, you could:
- Host a monthly book club
- Have an office pet (Betta fish are cheap and no one will be allergic!)
- Encourage game playing on breaks by bringing in a gaming console, board games, or decks of cards
- Let employees decorate their offices or cubicles with non-traditional décor like movie posters or chalkboard paint
- Reconsider a business casual dress code by starting a casual Friday policy or a themed dress code day once a month, like Fandom February or Greek Mythology May Day (and we can attest from experience that getting to work in jeans and t-shirts Monday through Friday makes everything about work easier)
Mae also offered this easier-to-implement tip: “Our founder also requires us to take some personal ‘learning/research’ time each week where we can browse the web for things happening within our industry, news, to learn a new platform, etc.” Encouraging this kind of learning time or investing in a group subscription to a skill growth and class database might be an investment that pays off big later.
Avoid the Internet
The internet is a treasure trove of listicles and cat videos. Lots of times, those are the kinds of things you need to take a mental break or to spark an idea. Other times, though, it’s important to step away from the nonstop onslaught of information that the web provides to find a new perspective or renewed creative energy.
Some excellent ways to find inspiration offline include:
- Zen out: Take a yoga break. You can refocus, recharge, and connect to creative thought with yoga right at your desk!
- Put pen to paper: Taking notes or brainstorming ideas at a computer or on a tablet is neater and faster. But writing lists, drafts, and other things in a notebook or on scraps of paper can encourage creative doodling and gives you permission to be messy. Any writer will tell you that the best ideas come after the messy first draft is out of the way.
- Get outside: When the weather’s nice, take your notebook of big ideas to the patio at Starbucks or move your meeting the park next to your office building. A change of scenery and some fresh air can make a world of difference.
- Open a book: Whether it’s a business book or historical fiction, the brain works differently when reading on a page versus reading on a screen. This can lead to different thoughts, ideas, and inspiration that continued staring at a screen might not provide.
- Daydream: This can be helpful and refreshing after working on repetitive work or intense projects. Give yourself permission to dream about your next big vacation or let your mind wander epically, like Alex Hester, who works in the registrar’s office of University of Alaska Anchorage and says he likes to take mental breaks to “imagine all my favorite friends and celebrities or something waging an epic battle against an army of the same amount of all of my least favorite people.” Creative indeed.
Communication Is the Key to Creative Success
Constant communication can be a distraction. But keeping the communication channels open outside of the Monday morning meetings can be important in opening the floodgates of creativity. Here on the QLP content team, we have Skype installed and use it if we need to fire off questions or brainstorm for an eblast on the fly. We don’t have to schedule meetings to come up with creative ideas – the channel to sharing ideas and asking questions is always open as part of our daily routine.
This might not work in all company cultures, but keeping lines of communication open between leaders and their staff is crucial to innovation and growth. Gary Harrison at Zeus Legal Funding says that at their office, “We make it clear that thinking outside the box will be rewarded. We have a suggestion box where employees can anonymously make their suggestions, and we take these seriously. If our company makes money due to someone’s creativity, that person will receive monetary compensation for their ideas.”
Bryan Mattimore, the cofounder of Growth Engine, encourages creative communication and idea sharing outside of scheduled meetings by sponsoring creativity contests. He says, “An example of one of these would be a ‘worst idea contest’ where everyone generates not good ideas for addressing the creative challenge, but the worst ideas they can think of. The worst idea technique is interesting because it’s: 1) fun, 2) takes away ‘great idea’ performance pressure, and 3) is surprisingly effective for generating new thinking, occasionally breakthrough ideas.”
Exercise for Ingenuity
We don’t mean roller derby (although we appreciate the punny names those derby stars come up with). The benefits of exercise in boosting creativity are well documented. Staying regularly active can boost cognitive ability and overall motivation. So we definitely support talking that walk on your lunch break. But the kind of exercise we’re talking about involves creative-building exercises, specifically to help come up with ideas and solve problems.
Much like teambuilding exercises, which support team morale and trust, creative-building exercises are important for keeping sharp, involved employees who prioritize innovation. Shaun Walker is the creative director of HEROfarm, and he specializes in coming up with exercises that lead to excellence and creative breakthroughs. Here are some of his suggestions:
- People watch: Try to figure out who they are. The stories you make up about others can be classic hilarity and help you develop your ability to kickstart your brain.
- Play “what if”: Take a stroll through your local bookstore and hit up the alternative history section. Ask questions like WHAT IF 4.5 billion years ago the moon never formed? WHAT IF the Cuban Missile Crisis blew up?
- Rearrange everything: Change everything up for a while – your routine, your furniture, your driving habits. Even try a different way of eating (left handed if right, etc.), walking, and interacting with others.
Creativity is important in just about every job and industry. Design firms and marketing teams aren’t the only positions where creativity is critical; you need it to encourage quick thinking to help patients in an ER, to help students learn as a teacher of graphic design, and to come up with out-of-the-box customer service solutions. By working to craft creativity in all your employees, you won’t ever find yourself waiting around for the next big idea to strike – ideas will always be growing up all around you!