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How Your Business Can Nurture Creativity in the Workplace

Tim Brown — 18 July 2022


Despite what people might think, creativity in the workplace is not just the purview of the marketing or R&D departments. All departments – and indeed all industries – can benefit greatly from nurturing creative thinking.

This is because creativity in the workplace:

  • Fuels innovation: According to a survey by McKinsey, 84% of CEOs believe innovation is critical to growth, but only 6% of CEOs are satisfied with their innovation performance. And if innovation is all about coming up with new ways to do things, it’s easy to see how innovation is intrinsically linked with creativity.
  • Increases productivity: Creative ideas can enable employees to work smarter, not harder, thereby increasing productivity and allowing employees to direct their time to areas that contribute more value to the business.
  • Enhances adaptability: If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that businesses need to be able to adapt quickly to unexpected events. During this tumultuous time, businesses had to find creative ways to maintain business operations – and those businesses that were able to find the best solutions were better placed to survive.
  • Improves job satisfaction: Employees who practice creative thinking find their work more meaningful and engaging, and feel like they are active participants in the business, leading to higher job satisfaction and employee retention.

So are you ready to unleash the benefits of creativity in your business? Here are 4 ways to nurture creativity in the workplace.

1. Encourage autonomy and individuality

According to research by Professor Teresa M. Amabile of the Harvard Business School, creativity is highly driven by intrinsic motivation, or a person’s internal desire to do something. She calls this the Intrinsic Motivation Principle of Creativity, where “people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself – and not by external pressures”.

One way to positively influence employees’ intrinsic motivation is by granting them autonomy and allowing them to express their individuality in how they do their jobs.

This doesn’t mean a total free-for-all. As Professor Amabile puts it, “Creativity thrives when managers let people decide how to climb a mountain; they needn’t, however, let employees choose which one.” In other words, creative output is enhanced when people are given clearly specified strategic goals, but are allowed the freedom to work out how to achieve those goals themselves.  Fostering autonomy can also include giving teams the flexibility to work remotely or in a hybrid environment, which demonstrates that they are trusted to complete the work they are given.

2. Create space for creativity – and failure

When a business fails to acknowledge employees’ creative efforts, or constantly greets new ideas with criticism and skepticism, these attitudes can kill creativity in the workplace and discourage employees from sticking their neck out by offering new ideas.

Employees need to feel like the workplace is a safe space to suggest new ideas and experiment with different ways of doing things. Companies can provide a space for this by allowing employees to express their ideas without judgement and praising creative efforts – even those that may be unsuccessful. While not every innovation leads to desired results, they are always teachable lessons. So, reframe failures as learning opportunities, and ask yourself, “What can we take from this experience to help us succeed in the future?”.

3. Hire diverse talent

If creativity means thinking outside the box, the last thing you want when trying to nurture a more creative environment is for your teams to become echo chambers – which can easily happen if your business tends to hire people with similar backgrounds.

Instead, to encourage creativity in the workplace, create teams with a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds. This requires cultural, educational and professional diversity to bring different life experiences, expertise and thinking styles to the table for ideas to breed in exciting and useful ways.

When putting together such teams, it’s also worth thinking about those team members’ personalities. Creative teams do not only need to be diverse but also mutually supportive – members must be willing and enthusiastic about working towards the same goal, be willing to help their fellow teammates through setbacks, and must recognise and respect the unique knowledge and perspectives other members bring to the table. Building a creative team with just the right chemistry may not be easy, but the results have proven powerful.

4. Provide the necessary resources

It’s no good simply telling your employees to go off and be creative – they need the resources to do so effectively.

Resources may include:

  • Time: Google famously encourages its employees to dedicate 20% of their work time to a Google-related passion project of the employees’ choosing. Google’s 20 Percent Project, as it’s called, has led to the invention of AdSense, Gmail and Google Chat, to name a few.
  • Tools: If collaboration and sharing information support creativity, then it makes sense to give your employees the tools to do so. Outfit, for example, allows teams to easily and quickly collaborate when creating brand collateral, creating a central source where every team member can add their input.
  • Training: It may seem counterintuitive, but studies have shown that training can in fact improve people’s abilities to creatively solve problems and come up with original ideas.

Providing employees with the necessary resources sends a clear signal that the entire organisation encourages creativity and makes an effort to see it thrive.

Consciously nurture creativity

Nurturing creativity in the workplace has many advantages – more innovation and increased productivity, resulting in a healthier bottom line; more engaged and passionate employees; and greater flexibility allowing businesses to pivot quickly when needed. But to gain these advantages, companies need to make a conscious effort to create a culture that encourages creativity – not just in “creative” departments like marketing, but across the entire business.

To find out more about the tool that’s giving teams back their time to focus on more meaningful, strategic and creative work, get a demo of the Outfit platform in action.