The Oxford Dictionary defines creativity as relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something.
In a nutshell, creativity could be seen simply as the ability to give life to new ideas and concepts and discover fresh approaches to solving a problem.
Applying this concept to an organisational context, creative employees might have the ability to think outside the box and to look at a challenging situation with a fresh and open-minded view, or they may have the natural drive to turn problems into opportunities.
Innovation can be a welcome by-product of creativity, but the solutions or ideas offered in this way do not necessarily have to be original. The idea of a jigsaw, where the pieces can simply be re-arranged to make a completely new picture, springs to mind.
Against this background – and in the current competitive economic climate – creativity must be seen as an essential characteristic of your workforce.
After all, it’s the ability to use an innovative approach and solve problems in new creative ways that gives your organisation the edge and differentiates it from your competition.
For this reason, it’s imperative that you – as a manager, business owner or leader – find ways to encourage your team to increase their levels of creativity.
Can creativity be learned?
Whilst some people are born with a greater creative talent, creative thinking is essentially a skill that can be developed and honed with practice.
It starts with pushing yourself out of your comfort zone!
The more exposure people have to unusual or unfamiliar situations, or the more they follow artistic and creative pursuits; the more likely they are to broaden their horizons, be receptive to new ideas and find their creative vein.
This process is not dissimilar to building a muscle in the gym!
Arguably, the creative ability of those who aren’t born with a great natural talent to think creatively may always be limited. However, with the help of positive encouragement, exposure to new experiences and a broad education, everyone’s inherent creative skills can be enhanced.
It’s simply a question of realising different degrees of creative potential.
How can creative teams be developed?
In a corporate setting, employers traditionally look for candidates with business, accountancy or law degrees, particularly when recruiting for a managerial or leadership position.
A basic university or college degree equips graduates with the necessary subject and technical knowledge. It also teaches essential discipline, as well as interpersonal and social skills. It’s an important benchmark on which to build.
Based on my own experience in recruitment and talent acquisition, it is clear that hiring employees with subject knowledge of traditional business degrees can lead to a rather inward-looking workforce.
It’s possible that these employees may find it hard to lift themselves out of their familiar niche and comfort zone.
In contrast, employing a candidate with a basic business degree, but who, for example, also has experience in liberal arts can lead to a much higher level of creativity and innovation from your team.
…let me explain.
Why focus on liberal arts?
In summer 2013, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences published a report accentuating the importance of the 200-year-old model of liberal arts education in the US.
The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a vibrant, competitive, and secure nation argues that a curriculum which balances the humanities and social sciences with the so-called hard sciences “provides opportunities for integrative thinking and imagination, for creativity and discovery, and for good citizenship”.
Liberal arts subjects, such as literature, history, science or philosophy, generally promote a broader outlook on life and encourage the questioning of the status quo. Exposure to these subjects also helps to improve the understanding of human nature and invites a more liberal thought process.
These are, in fact, essential characteristics of a creative and innovative workforce.
The most brilliant innovative business executives are people who have a broader view of the world. Steve Jobs, for instance, immersed himself in a different culture when living in an Ashram in India and, following a power struggle in 1984, he was exiled by the board of directors at Apple.
In a speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs said that being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him!
“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
This example illustrates that an exposure to situations, circumstances and learning that takes us out of our comfort zone can fuel creativity. It adds an extra dimension.
Put simply, a more multi-pronged approach to learning, and indeed everyday life, helps people to find and open their creative outlets. This is because they are encouraged to see the world through different filters and this counteracts the single-mindedness which is so often found in organisations.
There are many ways in which employees can broaden their horizons: by linking business degrees to liberal arts courses, as well as by joining the board of arts organisations, being coached, undertaking voluntary work … the list is endless.
Managers can promote creativity
It falls to you, the managers and leaders, to find ways of helping your teams to realise their full creative potential. This involves guiding and coaching your employees to find their own solutions to problems and turning every situation into a learning experience.
These are important steps on the road to developing a more creative and ultimately more innovative workforce.
However, this assumes a company culture where employees are nurtured to bring forward creative, unusual, and sometimes seemingly outrageous ideas and solutions.
A broad education, ideally paired with the liberal arts, varied personal experiences, and offering encouragement to think independently, all contribute to enhance the creative output of the workforce.
It is, however, the company culture that plays a key role in determining how far creative ideas are utilised and realised. In order to maximise creativity, people, and essentially all managers, must adapt.
Ideally, you’ll be able to create a working environment in which the general reaction to an “out-of-the-box” suggestion or solution doesn’t involve finding reasons why this can’t be put into practice, but one in which you and your team are able to think ahead and honestly assess its true potential. The question to ask is: “What if”?
In the words of George Bernhard Shaw: “You see things and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?'”
How do you promote creative thinking in your company? Leave your thoughts and comments below – I’d love to hear them.