“Discovery” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi wrote, “is seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought”. Very true, which is why all workplaces seeking to make their mark should provide the following necessary conditions for creativity and innovation.
This means a certain amount of latitude to pursue a problem or consider alternatives. It is difficult to be innovative when someone is micromanaging you or tut-tutting about the state of your desk or personal circumstances. If a project’s outcomes aren’t pressing, or if a person really does their most inspired work alone or even at home, let them get on with it (providing of course you’ve seen that this does work for that person).
Workplaces invariably have rules and restrictions, so creativity must be able to be triggered within certain expectations or constraints (which is not the same as micromanaging). When there’s a deadline to meet, or a client is jumping up and down, we need people who can thrive on a slightly frenetic atmosphere and under these circumstances turn out creative solutions. But the boundaries must be clear and tangible – not shifting goalposts.
Then there are those among us who are a little bit feisty; people who love it when a metaphorical gauntlet is thrown down. Most people love competition. Providing there’s a level playing field where the rules are clear, the incentives are there and stringent penalties exist to prevent cheats, a challenge can produce wonderful ideas and refinements on what currently exists in the marketplace.
It’s important to give ourselves a small jolt from time to time. Everyone is apt to become a little stale, irrespective of their daily output or viability of routines. Human beings lap up interesting concepts, new ways of seeing and experiencing things, visiting places never seen – the list goes on. Find new external stimuli – go to an interesting lecture, listen to a debate, pick up a book you’ve heard about and read it to the end, find a relevant best practice article related to your work. Or go and volunteer somewhere completely different for a few days.
Start stretching your body and honing your health and fitness in ways you’ve never tried. Even sitting straight (standing preferably) acts as a stimulant to a brain’s electric circuitry. There’s no need to become obsessive, but a few minutes of intense physical activity will cause tingling endorphins and a feeling of wellbeing, which in turn sparks fresh approaches to your life.
Once in while take people from different areas of the business and different teams and create a multidisciplinary mini-team that can brainstorm and solve issues together. Just the simple action of mixing non-traditional roles can release a whole new way of approaching tasks. Accept different approaches and find ways to BUILD on each others ideas without offence.
Create special places at work to have fun and “incubate” ideas, for example, by adding whiteboards on pillars, breakout rooms with fun seating, or a games room. But ensure there are ways to record the ideas. Make sure everyone is encouraged to write down ideas, whether in groups or alone. Regularly review ideas – keep lists fresh and fun, and celebrate the implementation of new ideas.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.