By Christina Nemec, Founder
Tom Keneally, the author of Schindler’s List, once told me the most successful writers are not the most talented. He insisted accomplished writers are those who have “ass-ability.”
In other words, they decide to sit down and complete what they start. They learn from their mistakes. They never say never. Instead, they say not yet. (Thank you, Dr. Carol Dweck!) Such creatives allow themselves the time and space to bring their visions to life.
The same idea applies to fostering creativity in the workplace. To fully realize creative potential, employees need a culture that provides them the time and space to focus and innovate. Fortunately, there are strategies leaders and team members can use to create a culture that supports creativity.
1. Creativity is all about perception. Here’s a story: During one of my communication workshops, I was having technical difficulties opening an important file. Thankfully, an attendee found a way to open the document on her laptop. She then suggested putting her computer screen under a document camera, so all could see. She saved the day.
Later, during a breakout discussion, I heard the same young woman admit, “I’m not creative.”
I stopped to listen. Her definition of creativity was limited to the arts: singing, dancing, writing, painting, music, etc. Creativity did not mean thinking on her feet or offering practical solutions to everyday problems. I let her know exactly how effective and creative she had been. “That’s being creative?” she asked.
Who knew? Once you begin to believe you’re creative, you become creative.
Ensure your teams understand what creativity looks like. Talk about it. Define it. Identify it when you see it.
2. Creativity can happen anywhere. Last winter, this message from Nextdoor.com appeared in my inbox: “My bear box has a foot of very icy snow by the door, so I can’t open it. What’s the best shoveling technique to get rid of it? I need a pro tip on this. Is there some trick? A better tool?”
I just love this post: It’s begging for creative solutions to a real problem. As neighbors posted answers, I doubt any of the respondents were consciously acting as high-functioning creatives. Yet they were all demonstrating creativity.
Just as this post requests answers, you can ask your staff to generate creative solutions for a problem. It may take a while to get an answer, but one will eventually come. When it does, define that solution as a creative act. Trust me. It works.
Creativity tip: Walk and Talk.
Recently Stanford University researchers released findings indicating that walking improves creativity by 60%. Try integrating walking into your workday. Ask staff members to walk while hashing out solutions to a problem. Organize a meeting to consider any ideas born. Creativity can happen anywhere.
3. Creativity needs space. In a 2019 Forbes article, Dede Henley stresses the importance of silence in the workspace even if taking some time to yourself means looking idle. She writes, “To access creativity you have to give yourself the space to do nothing. You have to put your phone down. Nothing means nothing.” Of course, this idea takes a certain amount of self-discipline and an understanding boss, but the benefits are there!
Joseph Campbell — the Sarah Lawrence professor who coined the phrase “Follow your bliss” and whose hero’s journey concept inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars — had good advice about creativity and imagination. This quote comes from a conversation Campbell had with Bill Moyers:
“[Sacred space] is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first, you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
The message? Creativity needs a place to grow. If your organization has the resources, ask employees what kind of space would inspire creative output.
4. Creativity craves communication. One of the best things about completing a project is sharing it. It’s both exhilarating and scary to put your efforts out there. Many let fear prevail and hide or underplay their creations. Providing an environment that allows for supportive feedback will help those with new concepts feel comfortable giving their ideas airtime.
Explore different models for offering feedback. See which ones fit your team. Offer training that helps employees provide each other with useful insights.
5. Creativity needs coaxing. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains how introverts communicate compared to extroverts. Introverts get energy from solitude. An introvert may have a fabulous contribution, but he will not be the first one to raise a hand.
It’s often worth the wait, however. If you have team members who feel uncomfortable shouting out new ideas, foster opportunities that allow them to communicate privately. Encourage your staff members to schedule appointments with you or others or to share ideas. Suggest communicating through email or over lunch—or during a walk.
If fostering a more creative culture feels like the right move for your team, know you’re in good company. Organizations like Google offer their programmers 20% of their work time to focus on side projects, according to a Hongkiat article. A 2016 Forum report ranked creativity third on a list of the most important skills to have in 2020. IBM surveyed 1500 CEOs who regarded creativity as the top-ranking quality for future success.
With this (and much more) evidence supporting the value of a creative workplace, why not take a step–or two–toward offering your team opportunities to express creativity? Perhaps start with a creative project of your own. Keep track of what employees say and do and see what happens next.
Christina Nemec is the founder of Simply Worded. Her mission is to help corporate teams communicate with added clarity, elegance, and power through interactive workshops. Christina earned an MFA in fiction from the University of California, Irvine. She taught at UCI for ten years before following her dream and moving to the Sierra Mountains. Christina is also a freelance writer and professor at Sierra College. During her spare time, Christina enjoys spending time with her three children and hiking the trails with her two dogs.