How to Foster Innovation & Creativity in the Workplace

Kayla Naab
December 5, 2019

Very few industries are unaffected by rapid changes in technology, and changes in the talents and skills of the workforce in general. Because of this, fostering innovation and creativity in the workplace is no longer a luxury - it has become a necessity. The failure to think creatively, to innovate, and to adapt to change, poses a major risk for organizations today.

In this article, we share some practical strategies that senior leaders and Office Managers can utilize to encourage their employees to tap into their creativity and solve problems for the benefit of their organization overall. But before we delve into how creativity can and should be fostered in your workplace, let’s explore what creativity is, and what it isn’t: 

Myths About Creativity in the Workplace

Here are a few myths about creativity in the workplace that people tend to believe:

Myth: Some people are more creative than others, full stop.

Not quite. While some people feel more naturally creative and others might not, creativity can be cultivated and developed in anybody. Also, employees who don’t identify as “artsy” may not see how they use creativity in non-artistic but totally important ways.

Myth #1: Creativity gets used up over time.

Creativity begets creativity - it’s contagious. While burnout is a real and valid experience for people in all industries, creativity is never gone - just resting.

Myth #2: You can’t teach creativity.

There aren’t clear steps for a tutorial on creativity, but it can be guided, encouraged, and developed in others. You can train someone toward more creative thinking, inspire them, and give them a safe space to explore ideas.

Myth #3: Creativity is for artists and makers only.

No way! Developers, engineers, scientists, analysts, healthcare providers, and everyone in between can and should draw creativity into their work. These are some of the most impactful areas for innovation to take place.

Myth #4: If I’m technical or data-driven, I can’t (or shouldn’t) be creative.

Again, no. You can, you already are, and you absolutely should. Wherever there’s a problem - and in your areas of expertise, there are always plenty - creativity is needed to find and test solutions.

Myth #5: Creativity can’t be measured.

Yes and no! Creativity isn’t quantitative, but output related to creative work absolutely will be. 

As you delve deeper into the cultivation of creativity as a quality, trait, or habit, you’ll find it subjective and ever-changing. The same is true for your workplace demands, though. A project which warranted creativity yesterday may demand objectivity and data tomorrow. What breeds, supports, and upholds creativity most is agility. An agile workplace welcomes innovation, encourages creative flexibility, and challenges workers to embrace change

In truth, creativity is a fluid thing and difficult to understand. In life and in hobbies, creativity is only as you define it. At work, though, the metrics should be clearer. It’s important for us to understand how to manifest creativity in ourselves, cultivate it in others, and scaffold that creativity within the culture of our workplace. We know that innovation drives business results and impact in every industry; we also know innovation can’t happen without creativity.

Creativity vs. Innovation

What is the relationship between creativity and innovation? Does one beget the other, are they mutually exclusive, or do they overlap? 

Creativity is defined as “the use of imagination and original ideas, especially in the production of creative work.” 

Innovation is defined as “the action or process of developing a new idea, product, or process.” 

From ten feet away, these words mean almost the same thing. As we zoom in, you’ll notice that innovation is an action that drives new thought while creativity is a series of thoughts that drive new action or production. Look what happens when we tweak the definitions just a little:

Creativity: The use of imagination and original ideas, especially to innovate.
Innovation: The action or process of developing a creative outcome. 

When we begin to correlate creativity as a means to innovation, and innovation as a means to business results, it might compel us to:

  • Hire more creative folks
  • Do more creative thinking at work
  • Inspire creativity in project work
  • Promote our more creative leaders
  • Invest in technology that supports our creative process
  • Imbue creativity into our workplace culture

These are great aims. Each will challenge your team, improve your output, and contribute to innovation within your company. The question is: How?

How to Identify and Hire Creative People

If you’re an office manager who contributes to sourcing, interviewing, or hiring candidates - you may be a frontline of defense against stagnation and lack of creativity without knowing it. You may be going through the motions to support HR efforts without thinking about how each new hire will contribute (or not) to the collective creativity of the team. Here’s what you can do to bring creativity into the candidate experience:

1. Motion for more creative job postings

Dig in - are you using a stock job posting template that lists requirements, expectations, and instructions to apply? Where’s the love? If you want to attract the innovators, it’s wise to lead by example by telling your story, showing off what your company does to drive innovation, and making them feel warm and fuzzy about where they might choose to invest their creative efforts. If your posting doesn’t address WHY a more creative candidate should want to work for you, change that first. The difference in your applicant pool will be palpable.

2. Look for creative cues in resumes and portfolios

Creativity isn’t always expressed through thoughtfully designed resumes or portfolios that stand out visually. These things are great if you’re hiring a designer or illustrator. For other roles, think about what creativity would look like WITHIN the confines of that person’s experience. If you’re hiring a developer or programmer, consider the creative ways that they may have solved difficult code problems or prevented a security breach in a creative way. Look for signs of that in their case studies or examples. If someone is a salesperson, consider how they have leaned on creativity in the roles they’ve had previously. Be ready to ask them to elaborate on the next step.

3. Add creative questions to your interview process

Creative interview questions aren’t the ones that trip people up, confuse them, or challenge them to some type of riddle. Instead, the interview questions that help to demonstrate creativity are open-ended and encourage your candidate to tell a story. The Undercover Recruiter put together a great resource to help you and here are some great interview questions from Vitamin T.

Hiring creative people (across all disciplines in your company) will not only instill more creativity into your team and workflow, but there are added benefits, too: Creative people are less shook up by abrupt change, more responsive to new challenges, and more malleable in a disagreement. Those are workplace wins that drive results AND keep the environment positive. 

How to Inspire Creativity at Work 

As an Office Manager, you have a great deal of impact on the ethos of your company by managing the way people work together, the spaces they work in, and the atmosphere of both. Here’s what to offer:

  • Varied spaces for quiet, focused creativity and loud, boisterous creativity
  • Equipment and tools that promote creative exploration and brainstorming 
  • Brain food - healthy snacks, plenty of water, and sure - a dash of caffeine 
  • Resources for creativity - books, inspiring artwork, and digital resources, too
  • Special guests - invite speakers or visitors who add something new to the conversation
  • Time - if every moment is allocated for doing, your people can’t also be thinking, dreaming, analyzing, and trying. 

How to Collaborate Creatively

People need time to be creative solo and in a group. The solo time allows us to fully immerse, to study, to play, and to consider without the constant noise and feedback of working in a group. The group time allows us to validate ideas, crowdsource initial feedback, poke holes in theories, translate ideas into action, and unite on a common goal. Here’s how to make sure the group mentality doesn’t ruin your creative streak: 

1. Cultivate trust

Make sure your people feel secure to share their wildest notions or ideas without fear of shame, blame, or overt criticism. If they trust the people they work with and for, they’ll share much more openly than if they anticipate a punitive response toward their ideas.

2. Remove barriers

A lot of workplace creativity is quashed by ill-equipped technology, heavy-handed processes and red-tape, lax decision-making, and other obstacles. Try to remove as many of these as possible to bring greater viability to the creative experience.

3. Encourage testing

Naysayers will often stop us from sharing our brilliant ideas. The fear that someone across the room will say “that won’t work” keeps us from finding out if that’s true. The best way to turn the volume down on your Devil’s advocates is to adopt one core mantra to all creative pursuits: “Let’s test it.” If you’re willing to do that, you’ll have more of your own data, your brainstorms will move more swiftly into real action, and then you’ll be sure. 

4. Love the failure

If your organization embraces failures, mistakes, and mishaps as a form of learning, you’ll fare better culturally and productively than organizations that operate in fear. When your employees know that their bosses embrace failure and accept that some things just don’t work, they’ll feel safer to try things. Nobody can be their true creative self while fearing consequences.

How to Handle Creative Burnout 

The enemy of creativity is pressure. Burnout happens most when people are doing too much at once, when the stakes are very high, or when everything starts to stagnate. Those are three very different circumstances but the correlation is pressure. Creativity is something that needs to bleed from people - it has to be organic and almost compulsive. Burnout can happen to any person of any career stage or age and in any field. Even your most regimented employees can experience it.

So, what do you do when a fire literally burns itself out? 

You reignite it. You start a new fire. Or, you turn on a light instead. 

If your employees are experiencing burnout, you can either help them fall back in love with the work they’re doing (reignite the flame), find them a new project to get excited about (start a new fire), or put them on some autopilot tasks that are less creative, feel familiar, and drive success (turn the lights on). 

Unfortunately, burnout can’t be truly prevented. Everyone will experience it at some point and the more someone uses creativity on a daily, the more susceptible they will be to the creative fizzle. Rather than fear it, expect it and embrace it. 

Fostering a Culture of Creativity 

When creativity is a cornerstone of your company’s culture, all of the steps above become more innate. You’ll attract creative talent more naturally. You’ll inspire your workers and they’ll inspire each other - without force. Your collaborations, both internally and externally, will vibrate with creative energy. Burnout will be your biggest nemesis, but you’ve got resources for that, too.

Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix to become a “creative” organization by design - it’s earned. There are things you can do, though, to show that you’re putting creativity front and center. Filestage has a great resource for doing just that. Our favorite tips include #3, #11 and #17. 

Ultimately, if you’re hoping to position your company at the forefront of innovation, creativity in the workplace is where your focus should be. Your leaders will be more open to change, your employees will be more driven to innovate, and your work environment will be primed to handle the calamity. 

Looking for a way to manage your workplace more efficiently? Check out what Eden’s Workplace Management Platform can do for your office.

Book a Demo