The cycle of creativity – encouraging employees to break out of their structured thinking

Dan Claxton, creative director, BD Network, discusses how marketers can separate themselves from the mediocrity that permeates the workplace.

Chained to the daily grind, stuck in our normal routines, it’s easy to forget the big picture. In the race for bigger, faster and better, innovation and creativity come at a price, demanding the brightest minds and talent in the industry.

As companies push to find a new angle, an edge in a crowded marketplace, the competition is fierce and the clock is ticking. While innovation and creativity may come naturally to start-ups, large organisations often struggle to remain nimble and support the level of creativity necessary to keep pace with their smaller counterparts.

Unhealthy fear

The corporate culture, norms and policies that once drove success and streamlined operations sometimes, unintentionally, thwart attempts at disruption and creativity. All industries can occasionally get wrapped up in technical accuracy that we develop an unhealthy fear of breaking the rules and this over-reliance on techniques leads to our work becoming predictable. As Albert Einstein famously said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”, and this is the very reason why creative thinking is so highly prized. When it comes to incorporating creative thinking into day-to-day processes, you need to challenge yourself to murder the mediocre and change the way you think.

Creativity is often thought of as a quality unique to ‘creatives’. In reality, it is present in all of us, and something that can be enhanced and nurtured, given the right tools, encouragement and environment. We all live with constraints and automatically explore alternatives and permutations within the confines of our daily roles. That’s why now, more than ever, supporting creativity in the workplace is an essential part of driving value for both businesses and the individual. In order for people to think ‘outside the box’, organisations need to empower everyone to challenge the status quo and encourage people to find their own distinctive voice.

We constantly encourage and promote creative interaction, meaning employees regularly generate lots of great ideas. When creativity is enabled and encouraged at every level of an organisation, people are able to harness this to create more efficient solutions, to innovate and collaborate. However, creative thinking is only worthwhile if ideas are put into action. That’s why it’s crucial to provide the time and resources to develop and implement those ideas that are worth acting on and developing. Failure to do so will result in the flow of ideas drying up or stopping altogether as staff will feel the process is pointless.

For example, we have found that the best ideas often come through collaboration – through a flow which arises from a clash of different ideas, building them up and looking through a different lens. It all boils down to harnessing the knowledge of a group of people with different experiences, skills and passion. Alternatively, people can also benefit from external stimulus to encourage thinking around new techniques.

Our production director recently decided to lean on his long experience in the industry by hosting an event to illustrate how print can still be a channel of innovation. The event opened the whole agency’s eyes up to the many ways print campaigns can be leveraged by brands as well as showing that out-of-the box creative thinking can be inspired by revisiting a more traditional medium. Lifting the office out of the day-to-day and away from their desks, providing tangible and practical examples to demonstrate new ways to engage and even fresh takes on old techniques all served as a defined and focused break, in which they were encouraged to think differently. Because creativity requires freedom, it’s important to give people that.

If you want your business to be agile, look at your silos that keep people and departments from communicating effectively. Silos can stop end-to-end business processes dead in their tracks. And they create an environment where different teams have different agendas, cultures and processes. That’s why it’s essential to promote greater interaction between individuals rather than teams to facilitate creative thinking. Talking to individuals to see what they’re interested in outside of work is also a good way to start the creative process. It’s sometimes easy to forget that everyone has their own individual interests and passion points, and these should be tapped into and leveraged. This begins the process of looking outwards, at people and what they want and what they do, rather than inwards, at your own systems and capabilities.

It’s also vital to remember that creativity has to be channelled to be effective and still works best within a framework – therefore, it’s important to set parameters, time, location and objectives to direct fresh thinking as well as making the most of these hours to bring inspiration and ideas to the fore. These frameworks need to be flexible enough to encourage different ways of thinking. A certain amount of risk-taking is inevitable with creative thinking, so it’s fundamental that employers never stem the creative flow by penalising those whose ideas don’t work out. Without inspiration, creativity cannot thrive in a work environment. And without creativity, how can organisations continue to innovate, disrupt and succeed?

Successful businesses of the future will need to lean heavily on their creative talent. They will use their curiosity, high artistic drive and ability to identify the right opportunities and leverage them for strong returns. Creative employees have a much broader outlook and approach in work environments because they can use their enthusiasm to get co-workers to rise up and meet new challenges often with a renewed sense of urgency. Accessing those talents and willingness to experiment are the best options employees can use to separate themselves from the mediocrity that permeates the workplace.

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