In pursuit of creativity

c2In 2016, The World Economic Forum dropped a report on the top skills required in the industry in 2020. Creativity moved from the #10 spot to #3, the top being complex problem solving and critical thinking. In IBM’s 2010 Global CEO Study, creativity stood out as the most critical factor for future success. A more recent LinkedIn study found that creativity was the top soft skill organizations were looking for in 2019. Given the demand for creativity, one would imagine that the world was paying extra attention to nurturing creative geniuses.

Yet, in what has been quoted as the Creativity Crisis by the Newsweek, while the IQ levels have been rising, creativity is showing a decline. As per the 2016 Adobe State of Create Report, only 41% of the global respondents described themselves as being creative. 75% of the respondents said that they are under pressure to be productive rather than creative at work and people spend only an average of 25% of their time being creative at work. While one could debate that the situation may have changed over the past 3 years, I will willing to bet that it is not.

Given the demand for creativity and the competitive advantage it holds, organizations are now under more pressure than ever to (a) create a place where creative people will flock to and, (b) build this skill within existing employees. After all as James Taylor said at his talk at the HR Tech 2019 conference earlier this month, “creativity is about bringing ideas into the mind and innovation is bringing these ideas to the world. Innovation cannot take place without creativity”.

While some people are more creative than others, creativity exists within every individual. It just needs a little encouragement and unleashing. These are three ways that organizations can do their part in unleashing this suppressed creative genius:

  1. Workspace design: For the longest time, I believed that workspace design reaped only marginal benefits. I have been proven wrong with every emerging research. Workspaces have a surprisingly large impact on employee behavior. If creativity is an important value, office spaces need to change. Little things can make a large difference. The colour green stimulates our creative juices. So get plants in, paint the walls green, do whatever looks aesthetically pleasing. Including libraries, open spaces and an art gallery further allows employees to draw inspiration when stuck. Communal spaces and gathering spots make for great collision spots for exchange of ideas. There is enough and more written about how to design creative workspaces including this one on the IDEO blog. On the list of things an organization can do, this one is fairly doable and has massive impact.
  1. Technology: Technology can help aid creativity. Machines and technology encourage constraint free thinking. They are not limited by the world-views held by a human being. Take for example the task of designing a chair. We’ve grown up looking at a limited set of chair designs our entire life. When tasked with the job of designing a chair, we will likely emerge with an idea that does not stray far from conventional. If that doesn’t fit it bill, it takes a certain amount of mind-bending and effort to design. However, machines are usually not built with a similar world view. Plug in the basic constraints, e.g. should support x kgs., should not weigh beyond y kgs. Etc., and it will likely throw out designs that an average human being would struggle to come up with. Our task then is to figure which of the machine generated design best fits the bill. Technology and humans working together sparks more creativity than either working in isolation.
  1. Creativity as a team sport: It often takes more than one person to come up with an idea. It is usually an accumulation of conversations, visual cues, ideas and practices we have heard elsewhere. The idea of a solo artist is fictional and organizations need to design teams to be more creative. One way of doing this is by bringing in diverse perspectives. A large amount of effort is being invested by organizations into diversity because we know it makes good business sense. It also fuels creativity. It is also important to give the team time and space to create. An overt focus on productivity can be detrimental to creativity. If your organization values creativity, make it clear and reward it.

The above are just entry points into creating a creative workplace. There is more that can be done and I am on the hunt to find solutions on how organizations can step up to this challenge. If you know things that an organizations can do or have done, let me know in the comments below.

The one reason creativity features high on top of the list of skills humans need to cultivate in the near future is because we believe machines cannot be creative, at least not yet. Every time I talk about machines being creative, my otherwise intelligent colleagues continue to roll their eyes. It’s taken me a while to convince them that creative machines are just round the corner and am guessing it will take me an entire post to convince the skeptical in you too. Watch this space for more.


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