Companies try all kinds of things to make their people creative.
They ask people to switch off their left brains during meetings. (Can we actually do that?)
They hire innovation consultants who rattle off buzzwords like user-centric innovation, mass collaboration and crowdsourcing. (Whatever, bro.)
They introduce foosball tables and bean bags in the office and throw frequent parties. (Hold my beer.)
But creativity doesn’t come from extravagant displays. Nor is it a binary trait that a few possess while most don’t.
Creativity is a process that requires the brain to connect seemingly unrelated ideas. It’s not a spark you have once and then sit back. It’s a commitment to continuous improvement, to introduce aspects that make life better for your customers, your people, and your organization.
It doesn’t matter how many beer parties you host, how many innovation consultants you hire, or how many right-brained people you have in your team. Igniting, nurturing, and sustaining creativity in the workplace is a long-term process.
The following mistakes sound the death-knell for creativity in the workplace.
Many leaders use the workplace to fulfill their fantasy of playing detective. They install ‘spyware’ on people’s systems to track how much they work or whether they work at all.
When this doesn’t enhance productivity (duh!), they step it up a notch by hovering over people, making them fill daily trackers, and interrupting them every few minutes.
The result? People feel like they’re constantly watched and prefer staying busy rather than working on tasks that yield meaningful outcomes.
But creativity doesn’t stem from busyness. It stems from having the bandwidth — time and mental space — to work deeply on tasks.
Instead of tracking how much your people work, track the quality of work done. Give people the luxury of a few undisturbed hours at a stretch to work on a task.
You’ll witness creativity blossom in unexpected ways in your people.
It’s important to track people’s real-time performance against their expected performance. Such Key Result Areas (KRAs) align everyone in the right direction.
But judging people for their mistakes is a step in the opposite direction. When people worry about the repercussions of their errors, they stop taking initiative. Instead, they stick to the bare minimum because it’s better than walking on eggshells.
Creativity and innovation stem from experiments, which involve trial-and-error. Let people err and learn. The list of mistakes you can never recover from is short. But the learnings from such mistakes have the potential to open new doors.
When people have the freedom to admit their mistakes, they feel safe. They also take the onus to fix things and push ahead, stretching their own limits in the process.
The result is not just a creative team but also a highly satisfied one.
Insecure managers are a common reason for toxic workplace cultures that thwart creativity.
Such managers try to outdo their people or pit them against each other under the facade of competition because they feel threatened. They do whatever it takes to be right at all times. They surround themselves with “Yes” men and banish anyone who can nourish them mentally.
Creativity is a game where nobody has all the answers and everyone learns as the journey progresses. That’s what makes it a fun-filled learning experience. But it demands to let go of the ego.
By overcoming their insecurities, leaders broaden their minds. In the process, they also empower their people to grow by collaborating rather than competing for a place at the table.
When your people grow and are ready to take your place, you can move on to the next big thing.
Micromanagers try to control everything from actions to behaviors and outcomes. They try to plan everything down to the T in order to eliminate uncertainty.
Such a system looks good on paper. But we don’t live on paper.
In the real world, such managers fail to keep up with exceptions and re-prioritizations. They become bottlenecks in the system and foster a culture that alienates good people and retains the mediocre ones.
Creativity cannot exist in autocracy. It gets nurtured when people closest to the ground take decisions, get feedback (in the form of data), and refine their actions in the pursuit of continuous improvement.
Hire people for their energy and passion more than experience and expertise. Give them the autonomy to make decisions and create something that amazes you.
`Such people will provide you far more valuable intel on your customers and competition than any management consulting company. Their insights will also help you innovate quickly and turn into a market leader.
Another trait of micromanagers is the lust for perfection. They spend painfully long on irrelevant details and wear everyone down.
But while perfection feels like a reliable anchor, it’s actually the thing that stops your ship from leaving the docks. And if you don’t ship your product, feature, or content, you cannot tell whether it works.
Creativity is about adding value and making things better for someone else. This makes execution more important than the idea. If an idea looks great on paper but doesn’t positively impact the entity you innovate for, your creativity is useless, no matter how much you pat yourself on the back for it. (In fact, it’s only a more creative way to burn the resources of your organization.)
Choose a pace you can sustain to keep shipping things. Take feedback and improve. Rinse. Repeat.
The more information you collect, the more creative you become.
The cases of burnout and work-related stress have spiraled in the last decade, forcing organizations to introduce programs like yoga, meditation, and dance to help people destress.
Yet, organizations fail to address the root cause of burnout and stress: pressure.
Pressure is of two types.
One makes people feel like they’re running on a hamster wheel and causes distress (e.g. fire-fighting, rework, and constantly scrambling to meet deadlines).
As a leader, your role is to place the right kind of pressure on your people. It’s to enable them to stretch themselves in order to achieve organizational goals while equipping them with the tools to do so.
When people experience eustress, they work smarter. They feel good about themselves and show up at work ready to give their 100 percent.
Creativity is not about “Eureka!” moments and beer pong.
It involves hard work in the right direction. It’s a series of failures and learnings on the path to discovering a way to make an impact. Everyone can harness their creativity in a conducive environment.
Equip people with the necessary tools to discover their latent creativity. Create a culture where they can be better versions of themselves every day.
When you enable people to become better, they give you their best in return.