How to Encourage Creativity in the Workplace

We are often asked by managers, how do we get our people to think creatively? We all know that creative thinking is a skill or talent that is highly prized, but how exactly do we encourage it?

Good question. I think it all starts with having the environment that encourages creativity in the first place. We all know that when a manager says she wants people to be creative but then negates creative thought by her actions or words, people will freeze when asked for ideas or input. Make sure that your actions back up your words if you want your staff to be creative.

What we find to be the biggest assistance in creative thought is allowing people to take risks. Don’t look for perfect solutions every time. Reports show that Thomas Edison experimented thousands of times before he found the element that allowed the first electric lightbulb to glow. On the way, he discovered explosive mixtures that blew up his laboratory! If he hadn’t taken risks on the journey, you might still be using candles on your desk!

Research shows that creativity is tied to failure. How? Because creative people are productive people. They have many, many ideas. You want people to come up with lots of ideas because the more ideas people come up with, the more innovative the ideas usually are. Why? Because the first ideas are usually conservative. It is only when you get these conservative ideas out of the way that you start coming up with new ideas – ones that haven’t been tried before – ones that are truly innovative.

Edison had ideas that others considered stupid or bad because they were so different from what people had seen before. So, unless risk is encouraged, people aren’t going to offer an idea that is out of the ordinary, or “bad” or “stupid.”

Remember that conformity will kill creativity every time! Yet what do managers and HR people do? Hire for fit, for culture. In other words, they encourage conformity! I know you have to go by the book sometimes, but how can you encourage something that your culture doesn’t reward?

You might think a person doesn’t have the education or background to be creative. But that attitude will stifle creativity right from the outset. By allowing diversity, you allow creativity.

So how do you motivate people to think creatively? Remember, the best rewards are those that truly motivate the person being rewarded to do the behaviour that you want. If you want increased innovation, then you need to use rewards that have a history of working for creative people.

Try rewarding the behaviours you want by giving people some control over what they work on. Give them a few hours a week or a day or two each month to work on a project that is important to them. And then give them resources for that project – a budget, technology, software, space. The project may be something that you can encourage them in using creative thought. Get them to bounce ideas around. Let the person have full responsibility for it, without inhibitions.

This environment will encourage creative thought and innovation, almost without them knowing it. At least it will change their attitude and actually make them more productive, even increasing their motivation along the way. You never know, the project may even be of major benefit to your department or company!

So, if you want people to find their creativity, create opportunities for them to do so. They might surprise you!

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 4 February, 2011

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