The Hidden Benefits of Creativity
When Kevin Yu wants to harness the power of creative thinking at his startup, he channels his inner teenager.
Yu reaches for SimCity 4 or Company of Heroes 2, two of his favorite video games. The ability to periodically check out from the daily grind, gives him a chance to decompress throughout the workweek. “When your mind is able to solve challenging problems in several fictional simulations, it is great training for the unpredictable challenges a start-up encounters on a daily basis,” says Yu, founder of SideChef, a home-cooking app with more than 11,000 recipes that integrates how-to videos with smart kitchen devices.
Yu is far from alone when it comes to tapping into the power of creative thinking. Those who study workplace culture say that regularly carving out time for free thinking and creative endeavors can have an outsize impact on career success. Even a 15-minute opportunity for creative work or a well-timed distraction can have long-lasting benefits such as more innovative ideas and the ability to standout on the job.
“Creativity appears to be an important component of problem-solving and other cognitive abilities, healthy social and emotional well-being, and scholastic and adult success,” according to data from creativity researcher Dr. Jonathan Plucker, a talent development professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. For instance, a recent survey of 1,700 CEOs found that more than 60 percent said creativity was the most critical skill in securing a leadership position. For employees, creativity along with collaboration, communication and flexibility were the most critical factors to future success, according to the data.
So why is it so difficult to tap in to creativity at work? Part of the problem is implementation.
When simple fixes lead to innovative thinking
Many of us are so stressed at work that taking time out for creativity can seem detrimental to meeting deadlines or ticking more items off of our to-do list. Other times we’re not sure what actually defines the activities as creative. But new research shows that even simple changes to the way we approach our job such as disconnecting during vacation, encouraging those around us to have low-pressure group conversations and taking steps to feel more autonomy over your schedule, makes it easier to implement creativity into our office lives. Activities that work our creative muscle often encourage free-form thinking.
On a personal level, day-to-day gestures also play a role. Taking a midday nap, attending a walking meeting and even volunteering helps some people feel more creative once back at their desk. Coffitivity, for instance, uses the ambient noise from a coffee house environment to boost creative thinking even if you’re stuck in a cubicle. Doodling in a notebook is another tactic that encourages new ways of thinking, according to data. In the long run, these activities make it easier to “view work problems with perspectives I would normally never consider on a day-to-day basis,” says Yu.
Rather than trying to implement strategies all at once, draw up a 30-day game plan with at least one creativity-inducing activity per workday. For some it may mean getting creative thinking out of the way by setting aside blocks of unscheduled time throughout the week, going for a morning jog or gathering with coworkers for an informal meeting.
The freedom to make mistakes
In the long run, choosing employers who value those initiatives is key. For public relations guru Michael Fineman, creativity is not only critical in his own leadership role, but one he extends to his employees. As president of Fineman PR, he sets aside time for judgment-free brainstorming where employees are encouraged to speak up without being afraid to say the wrong thing. The bi-weekly meetings have become a cornerstone of company culture; employees are encouraged to attend with their most out-of-the-box ideas. “It’s important that all team members have the opportunity to exercise their creativity, so I invite my entire staff to participate,” says Fineman who counts consumer businesses, nonprofits and some government agencies as clients.
As Yu builds out his team, he encourages innovative thinking by setting aside time for exploring new opportunities for growth in a low-pressure setting. Often times that means discussing some less-than-stellar options and encouraging workers to speak up even if their ideas seem bad. “I'm always encouraging my team members to take the time to ask more questions and listen to more perspectives before we start any execution,” he says. “If we expend our capabilities and passion on solving for the wrong problems, then we end up running in the wrong direction.”