Fostering Creativity in the Workplace
Creativity at Work Newsletter February – March 2010
I recently returned from a three week trip to Singapore and Malaysia, where I spoke at educational institutions, (including Singapore Management University), and corporations.
Singapore has become a vibrant hotbed for creativity and innovation, which I find really exciting. Since my last trip to Singapore two years ago, I’ve noticed a shift from a focus on technology and problem-solving, to one of creativity. Singapore recognizes that creative industries drive economic growth and it has positioned itself to be a global arts city, as a means of competing in the global economy.
The old model on which I worked was to create a First World City in a Third World region – clean, green, efficient… These virtues are no longer sufficient. Now we have to be an economically vibrant and exciting city to visit, with top class symphony orchestras, concerts, drama, plays, artists and singers and popular entertainment… We have to develop our high culture – symphony orchestra, ballet, the arts… We must also develop our popular culture – pop singers, TV dramas… This is today’s global village that we have to be a part of…Singapore has got to re-position itself in this world.
~ Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew [Parliament Speech, 19 April 2005]
Singapore is in the midst of turning this vision into reality, and has a comprehensive plan which includes creating centres of excellence to attract and develop talent, infrastructure support, ecosystem support, and community engagement.
One of the challenges facing Singapore and other nations, including Canada, is in developing the 21st century competencies necessary for people to succeed in the globalized world we live in. These include skills development in critical thinking and creativity. It is impossible to innovate without creativity, and it’s impossible to create without imagination. Moreover creativity requires the right environment if it is to flourish in an organization.
You can’t expect your business to be a 21st-century success story if you persist in using 19th-century techniques to run it. A fundamental re-think is needed. In the age of Web 2.0 and wikinomics, managers must modernise or die.
— Gary Hamel.
What can you do to foster creativity in the workplace?
- Focus your creative efforts on an area in alignment with organizational objectives in which you have control, ie, creating value for your customers.
- Have the courage to make the shift from command-and-control style management to one that is more collaborative, when you want to elicit creativity from others.
- Help people learn through Socratic inquiry. In other words, lead by asking questions, not providing answers. Give people clear objectives and let them figure out to achieve them. Give them time to think through situations, look at the big picture, bounce ideas off of peers, and experiment with possibilities.
- Re-frame questions so they are focused on desired outcomes, rather than problems. Try these quick questions to spur creative thinking:
What if…? For example, “What if we couldn’t do things the way we do them now, what would we do?” When you stop asking this question, you’re suggesting there’s no room for improvement.
What else…? Encourages people to push for alternative answers or solutions and not simply accept the first answer that comes to mind.
Why not…? Takes away any constraints and frees the mind to explore possibilities.
- Break the habit of responding with “Yes but..,” when people present you with ideas. Develop a “Yes and…” mindset to build on the ideas of others, rather than discounting them.
- Provide encouragement. People need to feel their work matters. Give them recognition in a way that is meaningful to the individual. Saying thank you is a good start. Give credit where credit is due.
Do your employees need motivation?
The top three motivators in studies by K. A. Kovach, (over a 20 year period) are 1) interesting work, 2) appreciation and 3) being part of the team.
Workplace creativity shrivels on the vine
The Globe and Mail Report on Business featured me in an article on creativity in the Canadian workplace:
About The Creativity at Work Newsletter
The Creativity at Work Newsletter provides overviews of new research in creativity and innovation, ‘best practices’ of leading organizations, links to new or relevant websites and an array ideas and techniques from innovation experts. Frequency ranges from monthly to quarterly. The newsletter is free and subscriber info remains private.