Core magazine: Five steps to make firms more creative

05 April 2017

  • Exclusive article from Warwick Business School's magazine Core
  • WBS academic Tamara Friedrich shares tips on creativity
  • She believes companies need to utilise untapped resources
  • Her five tips include dropping the carrot and stick and T-shaped people

Promoting creativity in organisations has traditionally focused on a few departments, such as R&D. However, firms may be squandering untapped resources if they do not encourage creativity throughout their workforce. Tamara Friedrich, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, lists five evidence-based ways to boost staff creativity.

1 Drop the carrot and stick

It is important to understand what drives employees to be creative. Extrinsic motivators, such as money, typically do not work as well for creative performance, which is driven by intrinsic motivation or an internal desire to create something new simply for personal satisfaction.

Instead of the carrot and stick approach, leaders can stimulate intrinsic motivation by providing a clear and motivating vision that employees will want to contribute to as well as a supportive, risk-tolerant culture where employees feel appreciated, safe, and willing to give their ideas freely.

2 Better brainstorming

When faced with a problem to solve, teams often jump directly into brainstorming. But traditional brainstorming, where teams generate ideas together with instructions to resist evaluation and that no idea is unreasonable, does not produce the most creative ideas. It often results in wasted time and a conversation driven by a few, dominant voices.

Instead, it is best to provide employees with some guidelines on desired outcomes, the time to generate ideas on their own before bringing the team together, and a clear process for sharing those ideas that ensures each person has the chance to speak. This technique balances the benefit of bringing different people together to feed off each other’s ideas, while still ensuring social dynamics don’t undermine the process.

3 Space – the lost frontier

The cubicle farms of modern workplaces have been designed for efficiency and in the hope that individuals would interact more frequently and share ideas organically, thus boosting creativity. The reality, however, is that these loud, busy spaces are often not conducive to the focused, thoughtful creative process.

Common spaces can foster interactions that boost creativity, but individuals should not be forced into these spaces at all times. It is best when there are social and meeting areas where employees can mingle and exchange ideas, but it is critical to also provide employees with protected time and space to think deeply about problems without distractions.

4 Get connected

When employees have the opportunity to share what they are working on, mix with others that have different experiences, and facilitate the cross-fertilisation of ideas, we can see truly novel breakthroughs.

This can be encouraged in a formal way - such as through internal conferences, workshops, or cross-functional teams - or in an informal way by providing common areas for people to interact or fostering a culture that promotes integration rather than silos.

5 T-shaped people

In addition to fostering interpersonal connections, it is also beneficial to foster intra-personal connections; that is an individual’s ability to generate ideas by connecting knowledge or experiences they have from different interests or areas of their life.

To accomplish this, some leading innovative organisations encourage employees to be ‘T-shaped’, meaning they have depth of expertise in their main area of work as well as a breadth of knowledge or experience. This breadth can be gained in both their personal and professional life and facilitates seeing unique connections, or translating ways of doing something from one domain into another.  

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