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Creativity. Some people believe it's a gift while others believe it's a skill that can be developed over time. Do creative people simply have the "it" quality that non-creative people will never be able to acquire?
Creativity is a muscle of the mind that we inherit at birth. It's not a matter of whether you have it or not; rather, it's whether you are "using it or losing it".
In many organizations, creativity fuels the innovation engine. But creativity doesn't happen by accident. It requires a certain type of thinking - a thinking that has no limits, the wandering of the mind. When the mind wanders, it connects conversations, personal experiences, day-to-day encounters, and old and new ideas into an interwoven network. This type of mind wandering encourages both divergent thinking (coming up with multiple approaches rather than a single idea) and synthetic thinking (processing a sea of ideas into a logical complex).
So how do you inspire creativity in the workplace? Research shows that creativity flourishes when companies enable their employees to enter a space of creative freedom, a freedom necessary for innovation and creativity to thrive. Here are three ingredients CEOs and other members of the C-suite need in order to do that:
The need to play
Whether it's going out for a walk, playing foosball or picking up a musical instrument, the movement of the body invigorates the brain in ways that cannot be simulated while sitting down. The creative muscle is often exercised when people are away from the desk and moving about. As author Twyla Tharp explains, "The brain is an organ, tied integrally to all the other systems in the body, and it's affected by blood flow, neural transmission, all the processes you undergo when you put your body through its paces."
Play can also get that creative muscle flexing.
"When you have a playful mind you're able to think in ways that enhance cognitive skills like analogical thinking and making connections between ideas", says UBC professor Darren Dahl in an article in the Globe and Mail. Play can tear down psychological barriers among coworkers, allowing for a more collaborative and light-hearted atmosphere to spill over into the workplace. It allows an environment conducive to free-flowing idea sharing.
The need for play extends beyond just taking recess breaks throughout the workday; in fact, it challenges the very way we structure our work. If most people come up with their best ideas outside of work - in the shower, on vacation, in the car - perhaps companies that value creativity should consider a more relaxed work schedule that allows the space and freedom for creativity.
The need to drink a little
This video pokes fun at the eternal debate over whether drinking (beer or coffee) has any effect on creativity. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that having about two drinks actually enhanced participants' performance in creative problem solving, though it inhibited their ability to complete "working memory tasks" such as driving a car. In the same way that play can diminish psychological barriers, alcohol can also make people feel more relaxed and less cognitive of their surroundings. Caffeine, on the other hand, allows people to be more alert, which is helpful when you're doing something that requires high performance and quality.
Both coffee and alcohol can fuel creativity when consumed in moderation. The wandering, relaxed mind required for the early stages of brainstorming and ideation - combined with a more focused, alert mind required for execution - may enhance people's ability to come up with something creative. Though alcohol can enable creativity, alternatives such as sleep or even boredom could provide similar effects in allowing the mind to wander and taking illogical routes around common ideas.
The need to fail
While most companies value productivity and efficiency, creativity requires not only a wandering mind, but also a chaotic environment in which failure is acceptable and sometimes welcome.
In his TEDTalk, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson explains that good ideas often don't come in flashes or eureka moments. Instead, they arise from a network of ideas, often in chaotic environments where a diverse number of people can share and bounce ideas off each other. Through chaos and unpredictability, innovation can be born.
For an example of failure breeding success, look no further than the WD-40. It was only after the 40th attempt that creators were able to construct the perfect water displacing formula to prevent corrosion of missiles - leading to a great product and a memorable product name. Various companies have attempted to embrace a culture where the concept of failure is acceptable by introducing awards for seemingly great ideas that just didn't make it or offering employees "get out of jail" free cards for ideas that ended up not making the grade.
As Thomas Edison says, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work." It is in this persistent, determined spirit that creativity can have a chance to fly. The needs to play, fail and drink a little embody the idea that creativity begins when collaboration, diversity and interconnectedness emerge on the forefront while perfectionism and monotony take a backseat. Creativity often comes from connecting the right people with the right challenge at the right time - and what better place to start than at that bar across the street?
Of course, play, acceptance of failure and booze (or coffee) can only take you so far when you're looking to tap into the creative energy that's all around - if you're looking to go to the next level it may be wise to get your customers at the table through a co-creation process. After all, creativity in the workplace is useless unless customers find value in your new ideas.