We recently launched issue 10 of our Benchmark search magazine, it’s full of quality insights from our industry experts. We thought we’d share a few key articles on our site, first up is Lisa Mittal’s who talks about how creativity is the key to success (found on page 54 of the magazine).
“There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”
– Edward De Bono
When creativity is mentioned, many people will picture an artist painting a masterpiece, or even a writer at their desk working on their latest novel; not many people think of an entrepreneur. Yet creativity is a key skill in business – it enables alternative ways of thinking that lead to innovation, and creates new avenues to success. Creativity has now gone from a luxury, to a 21st century survival skill.
LinkedIn has named it as one of the most demanded skills, and researchers have named it as one of the top three skills required for business, but what exactly is it? How can we use it for growth and success?
What is creativity?
Creativity is something we are all born with. As children, we look at everything from a fresh perspective, our minds are open to new ways of thinking and we look at everything with wonder, making all sorts of connections and imagining the impossible. This makes creative possibilities seem abundant, with our imagination at its peak. As we get older, we get used to the world around us and most of us start looking at things that we once thought were magical, as mundane. Our perspective and mind change to focus on what is familiar and what fits in with society’s norms, the new connections we used to make start to diminish.
For some, it may seem like our creativity has faded away, and we may question if we are still creative at all, but our creative imagination didn’t disappear, it simply transformed. It is this transformation that is key to business success. Our creative ideas shift from ideas of two-headed dragons and fairy superpowers to something less fantastical, an innovative new product, for example. There might be a mystic aura around creativity and what it actually is that makes it seem unattainable for some, but the definition of creativity is actually pretty simple. Once the term creativity is understood, you realise that you can still be as creative, if not more, than when you were a child.
According to Wikipedia, creativity is ‘A phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible, such as an idea, or a physical object, such as a painting.’
To put it simply, creativity is the process of creation. So what exactly happens during this process?
The creative process
The creative process is simply the act of connecting existing ideas to make new ones. It is the realisation of relationships between two concepts that makes it possible to join them. That’s right, most new ideas in the world are just the connection of existing things. Most paintings are just the blending of existing items, no matter how surreal or unusual they may seem.
When creating anything, whether it be a new business idea, book or design, there is normally a five-step process that happens, albeit subconsciously. These can also be used as steps that you can turn to for help to explore creativity.
This can be anything from gathering research or materials, deciding what it is you want to focus on or identifying problems.
This is where you take the materials from step one and mull them over, analyse them and work through the material in your mind.
- Stepping away
Step four normally happens subconsciously, so it is often a good idea to step away from what you have been working on at this point to let your brain work its magic.
- Light bulb moment
This is when your brain finally makes the connections between the materials and insights arise.
Once the concept has appeared, write it all down, get it all out, start the painting. Check through it to make sure it works, it’s possible, aesthetic or useful. Use critical thinking to refine the work.
That is it – the magical creative process summarised in five steps. Although these are common steps for the creative process, some creative people do not always follow them. Their minds can be non-linear, they may jump from step four to step one, then step three. They may possess certain characteristics or traits that make the path to connections easier, so they can skip out some of the steps. They can create their own individual process with whatever works for them.
Top five traits of creative people
While we all have access to creativity, the people who are able to access it more frequently and easily tend to have key characteristics. It can make it easier for them to make connections and get new ideas, which leads to more creativity. These characteristics can often be advantageous for businesses, let’s explore them.
Many creative people are curious about the word. They are interested in learning new things, are adventurous with their skills and like to make new connections. This is great for businesses as creative people are more likely to develop new skills which in turn can make them perform better. Since their minds are open and they are always reaching out, it makes them more likely to ‘bring more to the table’. Even if their thoughts are not primarily related to the business, they might still have a tangible impact. Their curiosity also leads to questions and challenging issues, which may refine processes in your business, or lead to new paths and business opportunities.
Creative people tend to be more experimental and playful than usual. They are not afraid to try new ideas, play around with them to find what works best and not take things too seriously. They tend to not put pressure on themselves to get things right the first time and see work as more of an experimental journey. They may also be flexible and experiment with their work process, even if it is just working with a different colleague for a change or using different software. Breakthroughs can happen when you simply experiment, new and exciting ideas can be brought to businesses this way.
When someone is creative, they tend to have a lot of focus, drive and passion. They can be very energetic, enthusiastic and dedicated about their work which leads to them being patient until they get it right, and are satisfied with the result. This is beneficial as creatives don’t tend to stop until they produce the highest quality they are capable of. They are ambitious and normally do what it takes to achieve their goals. Their energy and passion can also be passed on to other team members, which results in more involvement and a better work outcome.
Creatives tend to be very thorough, they look at issues and their work from many different perspectives to make sure all areas are covered. They can test lots of different solutions and pay attention to the smallest details. This can be very useful when analysing business or customer needs which can lead to unique ways to engage or design unique products.
Creative people tend to have a great balance between fantasy and reality - they have their heads in the clouds while keeping their feet on the ground. They are very open-minded and can make unseen connections between the world and their ideas. This can lead to imaginative solutions to issues and solving real-world problems.
Why creativity is key
We are living in a time of change. The pandemic forced businesses to update quickly and move online. Businesses need to be more creative than ever to get attention, update and survive. The fast-paced economy favours companies that are fast-thinking, flexible and innovative. Outdated processes need to be looked at with fresh eyes, new methods need to be thought of and introduced, and boundaries need to be pushed. Creativity can offer this edge, it can solve problems and help uncover unique solutions to keep a business on top. Creative thinking also allows new products and services to be introduced, helping to distinguish a business from its competition.
Creativity helped businesses survive throughout the pandemic; new solutions were introduced to cater to government rules. In many ways it was a test to see how flexible companies could be, and to see if they were prepared for managing unpredictable events. Businesses that adapted well in the response to the pandemic not only survived, but also gained customer respect, loyalty and reinforced confidence both within the company and the industry. Creativity is the best tool to help adjust to and conquer hardships.
There is so much competition for business in the modern world, and endless amounts of content, making it very difficult to capture customer attention. The ways in which businesses interact with customers should be thoroughly explored, with creative solutions for engagement sought to earn loyalty and to bring new business. This requires attention to detail and thoroughness, along with imagination and critical thinking.
As the world develops, more issues arise. Take global warming, for example, previous ideas caused this, and now we need to find new ideas to help resolve it or adapt it. Creativity can be used for the social good of the world, to refine society and benefit everyone. Many companies are introducing new processes to help with global warming, plastic waste and other social issues. This has slowly started to become the norm and, without coming up with creative solutions to join the movement, businesses may be left behind.
Some industries may not see themselves as creative, as there are set patterns and rules that need to be followed. Creativity can still help here, it can help reveal opportunities to make them accessible. Whatever goal you have in mind, creativity will assist. Creatives are often known as problem solvers, people who can look at any issue and come up with a great solution. They are able to face challenges more easily, with flexibility and innovative thinking. Creative problem solving can turn any problem into a solution, no matter what the topic.
Another reason creativity is important is the inevitable take-over of AI in businesses. A new study from Oxford showed that computers could take over most jobs that do not require a personal touch. Humans will require creative intelligence, unique problem solving and flexibility to survive and thrive in the AI workforce of the future.
Tangible benefits of creativity within a company can be vast, including increased productivity, increased market share, better employee retention, increased revenue, an ability to adapt to challenges and getting ahead of competitors. Go ahead, play with that idea, explore something new and see where it takes you.
How to boost your creativity
The great thing about creativity is that the more creativity you use, the more creativity you have. It is an infinite resource that is always available. For those who do not frequently get a chance to use their creative mind, their creativity may seem to dwindle, and it can be hard to access when they need it. Think of it like a muscle, if you never work out, how are you going to do those 50 push-ups? Our fast-paced modern lives and the multitude of stresses and distractions in them, make it hard to nurture creative minds and access creativity. Even the most creative people can sometimes struggle to tap into their creativity. Luckily there are many ways to get past the creative block and open your mind.
- The right environment
Creating a calm, inspiring environment is important for creativity. Light a candle to help you relax, declutter your space to clear your mind or add an inspiring image to your desk. Think of what will work for you and try to include this in your space.
- The colour blue
Have you ever felt creatively inspired while walking along the beach, with a bright blue sky and deep blue ocean? One of the reasons is that the colour blue is very dominant. Studies have shown that the colour blue has been found to make people more creative, why not paint a wall blue or wear a blue shirt to work?
- Use pen and paper
Technology is great, but sometimes taking a break from a screen and using just a pen and piece of paper will get your mind flowing. Try doodling to take you back to that child-like state of mind, or draw a mind map to get your ideas down and start to see the connections.
- Make connections
Since creativity and new ideas are all about connection, start training your brain to make more connections. One exercise to get you started is to take two seemingly unrelated objects or words, and try to create a new product or business idea using them both. Alternatively, just start mind mapping!
Take regular breaks to let your mind wander. One of the big blocks to creativity is that we can be constantly entertained. People never stare into space anymore – that’s when your brain just plays around and ideas are formed. You may be surprised at what connections your brain makes when you start to think about how old that tree you can see out your window is, or by thinking about that holiday you have just booked.
- Move around
Feeling a little stuck? Exercise increases blood flow and allows more oxygen and nutrients to enter the brain. This could be just what you need to wake you up and get more energy to the brain to allow new connections to form. Even going for a quick walk to get some fresh air, spend time in nature and change your surroundings can help you reach a breakthrough.
- Take a shower
As mentioned earlier in this article, creative breakthroughs tend to happen subconsciously, when you are relaxed and not forcing yourself to focus. You will be surprised at how many ideas come to mind while you are relaxing under a hot running shower.
- Try something new
Starting new hobbies can create new connections in the brain that will help to boost creativity. Take the plunge and finally start that new hobby you have been wanting to try.
- Exercise your brain
This can be as simple as doing some puzzles, but there are many great books out there with creative exercises to get your creative mind ticking. Have a look online and find the right one for you.
How to boost creativity in the workplace
Here are some ways you can nurture creativity in the workplace:
Consider how sound, colour, temperature and lighting affects staff. Ambient noise levels work best for encouraging creativity, along with blue décor and a temperature of around 22 degrees. Make sure there is space for ideas to bloom, with whiteboards, sofas and notepads. Why not also add some mood boosting plants and a relaxation area for staff?
- Hire diverse talent
As previously mentioned, the creative process is the joining of two existing ideas. The more diverse the staff are, the more unique ideas and points of view the team will have to connect and create. Studies show that papers co-authored by diverse groups were cited more often.
- Offer support and encourage individuality
Let employees know you value their uniqueness and ideas and give them space to grow. If staff feel appreciated, they are more likely to go the extra mile and reward you with their hard work and ideas.
- Have a suggestion box and act on good ideas
Let employees suggest ideas anonymously, either online or in a box in the office. Some people are more likely to submit their ideas anonymously. Staff may only submit genuine ideas if they know they are going to be implemented. Appreciate the thought and work employees have put in by really doing something with them to help the business, then make them feel appreciated.
- Create room for growth
Schedule in mind mapping sessions, allow staff to pass on knowledge and skills they have to other colleagues and pencil in some time for staff to learn new skills. This will open their mind, encourage communication and keep their mind fresh.
- Social events
To keep everyone connected, schedule regular social events for staff to enjoy. If in-person is not possible, take it online. This will not only bring the team closer and create relationships to allow creativity to grow, but it will also give everyone some time to relax and reset their mind.
- Flexible working
The pandemic forced a shift for people to work from home and even once restrictions were lifted, many businesses moved to hybrid working. The good news here is that working from home can actually increase creativity. Employees can get more comfortable at home, they feel less stressed, are more able to play around with ideas and productivity is normally increased.
- Have a suggestion box and act on good ideas
Get the team together for a 20 minute creativity boosting session, doing exercises shown to promote creative thinking:
- Word association games
- Making up your own ‘what do you get when…’ jokes
- Drawing visual connections between two objects
- Creative writing using images or objects as prompts
- Thinking of alternative uses for everyday items
Whether it is adapting through a pandemic, gaining customer attention or finding new business opportunities; creativity is the key when making any business succeed. By tapping into creativity and boosting creativity in the workplace, more doors can open than ever thought possible and tangible benefits are revealed. Include more creative activities in your life and see what connections you can make.
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