Three Words to Spark Creativity in Your Workforce

Creativity in your workforce

"What if we...?" Finish that sentence. What if we, what? The particular ending in this context doesn't matter. What's important is the question. The end of that phrase, "What if we?" is often the beginning of the clever and perhaps unconventional way of looking at something that portends great change. It's where big business pivots, not to mention revenue, start. And it happens not just in creative bullpens, but also in boardrooms, garden-variety staff meetings, and pretty much anywhere business gets done.

What Sparks Creativity in Your Workforce

Far from the days when people could be sorted into boxes labeled "creatives" or the dubiously unflattering, "suits," today's marketplace requires everybody to exercise their creative spark to change courses and solve problems big and small. That creativity in your workforce is a tangible resource is not in question. Most recently, a 2014 study by Adobe and Forrester showed that creativity drives companies that outperform rivals in all important areas - talent acquisition, market share, and revenue. So if we know creativity is important, the more important question is, how do help people find and tap into theirs? What do people say sparks creativity, or stifles it? Here's what we know from research:

"No" is Detrimental

The word "no" in response to an idea has more than a momentary effect. "I can't tell you how many good ideas I've seen shut down in this manner," says Lucy English, PhD, a consultant with Horizons Workforce Consultant who's studied the impact of "no" on brainstorm meetings. She says a great practice is to dedicate a portion of a meeting as sacred space where all ideas are accepted. "The only comments on one another's ideas are limited to, 'Yes, and here's my input' phrases," she says. You can go back later and decide which ideas have the most potential and begin to shape them.

Creative People have Permission to Fail

To be truly creative, people need to feel safe, says Lucy, not only in a brainstorm, but in pursuing an idea that may fall flat. "My organization has given me the leash and the security to try things and fail," she says. "That's the only way I can be creative at work."

Distracted People are Creative

It might be counter-intuitive, but all those cat videos your employees are watching are actually doing some good. Study after study has shown that people need to disengage from a problem to solve it. Checking out for a while, it turns out, helps them find answers they couldn't come up with when they were singularly focused. "That open mode," says Lucy, who would advise more academic distractions than animal videos, "means letting the world around us provide inputs we might not recognize when we're in analytical mode."

Trust Inspires Innovation

In her new book, "Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear," writer Elizabeth Gilbert says the roots of creativity lie in one's ability to recognize a good idea when it appears. And 29% of people in our Modern Family Index told us a manager who uses a light touch -- one who gives employees free reign to do their jobs -- is most likely to inspire people who are open to those great ideas.

People Need People

In that same MFI, about a third of respondents told us that the key to being creative was working with other innovative people. That means that supporting creativity through efforts like the above not only helps individual employees, it also strengthens a collectively more creative workforce.

That Adobe Forrester study went on to say that companies are fully recognizing the power of creativity, today pursuing it as a genuine business objective. With greater market share and revenue at stake, it's a good bet an increasing number of employers will be following suit, hoping that their employees will keep coming up with new ways to finish that three-word phrase that begins with the question, "What if we?"

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.