By Giovanni Masino
Every organization needs to find some way to be creative. And this is true for business in any industry, even the most traditional ones, and particularly relevant for startups. As creativity expert Cyriel Kortleven famously once said: “Out of the box or out of the business.”
So, what can organizations do to enhance their ability to think and act creatively? Are there some general guidelines to increase creative work? Organizational and behavioral research suggests there are principles we can rely on. However, they require thinking a bit unconventionally about management, about organizing, about work. After all, it’s not so strange that to become creative, businesses have to manage and organize creatively, is it?
I have put together 10 ways to improve creativity in an organization. These come from observing some of the most creative organizations in the world and from what the best scholars in the field tell us.
1. Have a tolerance for failure
The most creative organizations don’t see errors, mistakes, and failures as waste or inefficiencies; they see them as learning opportunities, and even more importantly, as investments. Mistakes are the natural, necessary cost of creativity and innovation. Indeed, some creative companies get worried if they don’t see enough mistakes being made because that may signal that they are not “daring” enough.
Of course having a healthy balance between good and bad ideas is necessary, as well as having mechanisms that allow you to learn from your mistakes. The goal is not to eliminate mistakes—the goal is to come up with something new and valuable. Bad ideas are a natural and necessary part of what being creative is all about.
2. Encourage diversity and collaboration
When you’re able to get people with different backgrounds, points of view, knowledge, and abilities to collaborate, there’s no limit to the level of creativity that can be achieved. Diversity and collaboration are the fuel of creativity. If you play it safe, if your focus is too narrow, or if you are too specialized, nothing really interesting and creative will ever happen. The most creative organizations join together diverse talents and let them work together.
3. Embrace conflict
Some people hate conflict and will try to avoid it, while some actively seek conflict with others because it gives them an adrenaline rush. Both approaches are not good for creativity.
However, conflict of ideas—not conflict of people—is a crucial ingredient for creativity. We are talking about critical thinking, discussion, debate, analysis. Creative organizations embrace conflict of ideas and consider it to be their best way of “thinking.”
Our best ideas are born when our brain is in its “alpha” state, which happens when we are relaxed. Some of the most creative organizations allow their employees to just relax during their working hours. These organizations are not crazy or wasteful; they are pragmatic. They know that for creative tasks and complex problem solving, relaxation is way more productive than focusing or trying too hard. Indeed, trying too hard will actually damage a person’s ability to think creatively.
5. Pay attention to physical environment
The physical environment of the workplace deeply affects the way we think and behave. Colors have a significant influence. (Hint: Red is not so good for creativity; try blue instead.) But even more, the “geography” of the workplace can vastly determine who talks to whom and how often, and how people perceive each other. Physical layout should facilitate unlikely encounters, chatting, and collaboration, as well as provide a safe, private space for everyone.