Creativity is an essential aspect of human nature, yet many people struggle to embrace it, either from insecurity or fearing its potential unpredictability. While it is tempting to stick to familiar routines that afford the comfort of not dealing with potential failure or uncertainty, there is no room for personal or organizational growth with this mindset.
Today, the need to foster creativity that drives innovation and growth in organizations is a highly regarded requirement for leaders. However, simply telling your team to “think outside the box” isn’t exactly inspiring. To quote Ted Lasso, “Takin’ on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.” While we all agree that change is scary, what makes creativity so satisfying is the opportunity to see situations from new perspectives.
In this article, we will explore five counterintuitive notions that can help to cultivate a creative culture.
- Embrace Breaks. The work myth that staying focused and working long hours is the key to productivity and success is well established. However, research shows that taking breaks helps to boost productivity and creativity. Stepping away allows our brains to rest, recharge, and find fresh perspectives. Instead of embracing the busyness of the day, rushing from task to task, instead learn to pause, be comfortable in the moment, and allow the space for the “aha!” moment to occur. Have you heard of the rule of 52 and 17? Studies show that the most productive employees are those who work for 52 minutes followed by a 17-minute break before returning to work.
- How Can You Take Breaks? Be intentional about scheduling quiet times, with no physical or digital interruptions. One way to achieve this is to build in breaks between meetings. Instead of maximizing time by setting the meeting length to an hour, try setting it for 45 minutes, which allows participants to mentally transition to the next meeting.
- Embrace Constraints. Embracing constraints is valuable for creativity. When we are faced with limitations, we are forced to think creatively and find new solutions. When presented with too many options, it is easy to become overwhelmed, and decision fatigue sets in. By narrowing options, it is easier to focus on what truly matters, leading to more creative and innovative solutions.
- How Can You Embrace Constraints? Don’t tell people what to do, tell them what not to do. People are not machines, so clearly set guardrails and tap into their capabilities. There is a tension between control and innovation, but clearly communicating the organization’s mission and purpose is an easy way to inspire pride, reduce fear to challenge the status quo, and drive innovation in employees.
- Embrace Failure. Failure is a necessary part of the creative process. While we have been conditioned to believe that failure is something to avoid at all costs, in reality, failure is a valuable learning experience. To quote Giannis Antetokounmpo when his team failed to advance in the NBA playoffs, “You work toward a goal—it’s not a failure. It’s steps to success.”
- How Can You Embrace Failure? Try creating “Get out of jail free cards” for all employees. Employees can use these when they try something new, and it doesn’t work as expected. Showing your support for creativity by providing your team with these cards empowers them to action. It symbolizes your support for them to push boundaries—within the guidelines of the mission—without fear of retribution.
- Embrace Fun. Creativity and play go hand in hand. Allowing space for play gives employees permission to explore, experiment, and have fun. Having space to approach creativity as play invites employees to be fully present in the moment.
- How Can You Make Space for Fun? Secret handshakes are an easy way to bring playfulness into the open. Before a meeting where you are looking for creative solutions, ask the participants to pair up and create a secret handshake. Then, at the start of the meeting, ask them to spread out around the room. When you say “Go,” each one then acts as if they are seeing the other for the first time in several years and breaks into a long-lost secret handshake. This exercise will quickly create a playful atmosphere within the group, which is fertile ground for creative ideas to emerge.
- Embrace Chaos. Chaos and disorder may seem counter-productive, but they can be invaluable for creativity. Breaking free from rigid structures and patterns leads to new ideas and fresh perspectives. In the unpredictable, we create space to tap into new possibilities.
- How Can You Embrace Chaos? Creative job titles. Job titles aren’t known for generating excitement, and retitling is easy to dismiss as a silly exercise, but traditional job titles are restricting and often very standardized. If you recognize the power of the title, there is an opportunity to empower the workers. One example is Disney, where engineers are called “imagineers,” and park workers’ job titles are “cast members.” As a further example, many local human resources departments have recently seen an increase in “talent acquisition officers,” etc. Research shows that employees who have retitled show lower levels of emotional exhaustion, felt more validated, and experienced greater psychological safety.
Embracing creativity is both a challenging and rewarding process. While these examples may appear to be counterintuitive, give them a try and see how they are able to unlock the full potential of your meetings, employees, and organization to help drive innovation. Lean into embracing the creative side with the steps outlined here—you might just be surprised at what your organization can create!