The 6 Creativity Hacks That Skyrocket Innovation
My previous blogs on the creative process, explore how these factors influence employee behaviour. They were the focus of my research, submitted (successfully) for a Master of Culture, Organization and Management.
Here, I share my findings—from Buurtzorg, Decathlon and Handelsbanken—all of them (partly) self-managing organizations. I will elaborate on what surprised me. And I provide a link to the thesis for those who want to know more. (Or just ask me!)
"Do employees perceive a relationship between creativity and emotions in the organizational context, and how does this influence their creativity?"
This was the question I tried to answer. Why? Some articles had described the relationship between creativity and emotions. One, by March (and colleagues) called “Creativity as mood regulation”, stood out. It showed that people might change negative tendencies to positive when given the freedom to “be creative”. That is, being allowed the freedom to work on their own ideas.
Wouldn’t that change the way organizations work? Give people room to be creative, help them feel less stressed, and generate more good ideas. Surely that would work? But others might think: “Work doesn’t always have to be fun. People should do what they’re asked to do—not just random things!”
Do employees perceive a relationship between creativity and emotions in the organizational context, and how does this influence their creativity?
On the other hand, not encouraging employees/colleagues to come up with new ideas could risk the future of the company. But if you think you can come up with all the good ideas yourself, you should read this article by Stevens, Greg, Burley & James (1997). They concluded that out of 3000 raw ideas, only one (!!!) became a commercial success.
So even if your idea is just 1-in-3,000, it still adds a piece of knowledge, that might be the missing piece of the puzzle. (Read my previous blog to why more pieces of knowledge help in getting better ideas!)
“Yeah yeah, interesting and all, but we want the results!”
Ok! I asked the interviewees which aspects at work stimulated their creativity. This resulted in a list of nine factors you can find in my thesis. Here, I list only those that seem to have most impact.
Positive influences on creativity
1. Perceiving freedom
This was mentioned by all interviewees. A Buurtzorg nurse gave a great example. She felt creative when using an old pan to wash a client who couldn’t get into the shower.
This idea is unlikely to win the Nobel Prize! But key is the fact she felt the freedom to come up with this alternative. She felt safe enough to use a method probably not taught in nursing school. If she had worked in an organization with strict, and fixed, procedures for washing people, what would the result have been? Or would both client and employee have been disappointed with the outcome?
2. Sharing with colleagues
Sharing with colleagues positively influences creativity in many ways. First is the support an employee might get to keep working on the idea. Second, is the increase shared knowledge.
When colleagues interact to combine ideas, it increases the likelihood of even more, novel, combinations—and solutions. Sharing seems to make an organization even more creative—by enabling everyone’s knowledge.
3. Feeling mentally rested
I highlighted how this encourages creativity in a previous blog. When the brain is rested, it has time to try new combinations of knowledge. The cool thing is this: interviewees said feeling mentally rested helped them in their creative process—but they could not explain why. They just knew it did. (And we now know why!)
Negative influences on creativity
The interviewees mentioned 6 aspects that negatively influenced creativity. Again, I’ve chosen the top three. And, as you might suspect, they are the counterparts of the positive factors.
The reason I mention them is because they hinder creative processes. That is, if the positive aspects are missing, it is not just a neutral effect—it actually becomes a negative influence.
1. No room for ideas
Again, as with freedom, it is about how employees perceive openness to ideas. If someone thinks there is no room for (sharing) new ideas, even if the organization is giving employees total freedom, the employee will still fear the outcome and will not share or work on ideas.
One interviewee described how colleagues at an old job acted. There were colleagues who, sensibly, said: I won’t put my head above ground level. To change this means building a culture in which employees feel trusted, and safe, to promote new ideas.
2. Not sharing ideas with colleagues
That transparency helps organizations is something you probably already knew. But a lack of transparency, or at least a lack of sharing with colleagues, also has a negative influence on creativity. Or so our interviewees said.
This reflects the social context one works in. As a Buurtzorg coach explained, some teams are rather dominant. “If someone in that team is insecure, they can be overshadowed by the more dominant members—and scared to share their ideas.”
There are many reasons why ideas are not shared. But the result is the same. Employees don’t exploit creative potential as they could.
Most interviewees said deadline stress created a negative effect. (But, a minority said it helped them be more creative.) For the majority, they said that when they were stressed, they felt as if they had less room or time to explore new solutions. Or stress increased because they felt they should focus, primarily, on not making mistakes.
They were afraid to take time to work on their ideas, and of the consequences if they shared them with others. They focused on ‘surviving’, and not critical reflection. Stress can interfere with creative processes because it reduces awareness of ideas.
In my blog about emotions at work, I said they can be influenced by social context. This means the perception of stress, and how it influences the creative process, can differ between organizations/employees.
So, a relationship between creativity and emotions does exist. I define two types of relationships—direct and indirect. I invite you to look at my thesis if this aspect intrigues you.
What surprised me most…
I asked interviewees what they thought influenced creativity more: personal characteristics or external influences. Only one out of twelve chose external influences. All others chose a mix between the two.
Comparing this with aspects that influence the creative process, there seems to be a discrepancy. Even of those who said that personal characteristics have more influence, most mentioned external factors as influences. This suggests most interviewees are not consciously aware that the aspects they mentioned as having an influence on creativity are mostly external; (not) sharing ideas, supportive social context, sufficient resources, inspiration, trust, having (no) freedom, being engaged, distractions, negativity from others.
The aspects having an influence on creativity are mostly external; (not) sharing ideas, supportive social context, sufficient resources, inspiration, trust, having (no) freedom, being engaged, distractions, negativity from others.
It seems that the employees are not always aware that external and social influences stimulate their creativity. And if they not aware, it is harder for them to find intrinsic motivation to share ideas, and to benefit from the positive influence that external social context can have on the creative process.
Are self-managing organizations more creative than traditional organizations?
Based on my research, I dare not say that. But what I can say is that at Buurtzorg, Decathlon and Handelsbanken, all had aspects that benefited the creative process. These aspects seem to be more present in self-managing organizations than in certain traditional organizations. These include: strong customer focus, supportive social context, transparency, and an open culture in which people feel safe to share. All of these stimulate creativity.
With this research, and thanks to the collaboration with Corporate Rebels, I successfully completed the Master Culture, Organization and Management. (Whoohoo, I’m a MSc!) If you have any questions please contact me! If you want to read the whole thesis, you can find that here.
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How are work outcomes affected by the treatment of those who do it? I have been exploring this question for ~50 years. In that time, one comment stuck with me more than any other. It was made in 1998 when I interviewed a group of men in Indianapolis who had redesigned most of the US city’s waste collection and disposal operations. “We are no longer expected to park our brains at the door when we come to work.”