When we get caught in the rhythm of working life, sometimes things can get a little dull. We move through tasks, we check things off our to-do list, and we have the same meetings over and over… Part of this is an inevitability, right?
It’s unrealistic to try to make every minute of the workday exciting. But we run into trouble when working life becomes mundane and void of imagination. Keeping the spark of creativity at work alive is crucial.
Why is fostering creativity in the workplace important?
Creative thinking is not only good for our brains, but also a powerful business tool. Think about every leader that has created a world-changing product or service. At the heart of every major innovation is imaginative, out-of-the-box thinking.
Creativity can’t just open you up to new possibilities and discoveries, it can also help you perform better as a leader or professional. In McKinsey’s study on creativity’s bottom line, they found that creative leaders were outperforming their peers on key financial metrics;
- 67% had above-average organic revenue growth
- 70% had above-average total return to shareholders
- 74% had above-average net enterprise value
So how’s that for the power of creativity at work!
Does creativity at work benefit everyone?
You don’t have to be in a creative role to feel the benefits of creative thinking. Engaging with imagination skills can help you innovate, grow and be more adaptable in any role. In fact, creativity is marked to be one of the most in-demand skills for the future of work.
So, how can we learn to be more creative? It’s all about prioritisation and practice. And maybe a little inspiration. Maturity is often one of the most valued characteristics of an employee. But what if we took a slightly more immature approach to ignite our imagination?
What if we looked to a six-year-old to refresh our way of thinking?
We kid you not.
It might sound odd, but young children are great examples of fresh, creative brains. In fact, they’re wired for creative thinking, problem solving and growth (literally and figuratively).
Let’s explore why children are so creative and what we can learn from them to bring out a little more creativity at work.
Why do children have such creative ideas?
So what’s their secret? Here’s how children have effortless creativity.
1. They don’t fear failure
Let’s take a second to do a quick exercise. Apologies in advance: this one’s a little unpleasant. Close your eyes and think about all the times you’ve failed.
Whether it was a major mess-up or an awkward misstep – we bet that memories of failure are never too far from your mind.
Don’t come back to earth with all of those sticky feelings just yet. Take another minute to imagine what life would be like if none of those failing experiences had occurred. Would that make you feel more or less likely to take a risk today?
Failure is an important and natural part of professional life. It’s how we learn and grow and is nothing to be ashamed of. But freeing yourself from the fear of failure is about as powerful a tool as you could possibly have when it comes to creative thinking.
With limited life experience, children don’t bring their emotional baggage to creative thinking. They’re not worried about failing, they just do what they want to do and what they think would be fun. Without any worry or projection of what could happen beyond their next thought, they explore and share their ideas instinctively.
Here’s a cliche that applies perfectly to creativity at work: what would you do if you could not fail? It’s a cliche for a reason.
2. They believe every problem can be solved
Children are natural inventors. When they see a problem, they believe there is a fix just waiting to be discovered. It’s difficult to explain to a child that some problems are extremely hard to find solutions for, and they might just have to live with the problem. That’s because that’s an unpleasant prospect!
Children aren’t willing to just deal with an issue or inconvenience, they will keep looking for solutions – no matter how weird or wacky – til’ bedtime.
3. They don’t immediately question themselves
This is a big blocker for creativity at work. Most of us adults have learnt to run our words and ideas through an internal vetting process before we unleash them on the world. Kids don’t have this ability, and they’re more creative because of it. Kids’ thoughts come to them on instinct – and they’re letting you know about them no matter how strange they seem.
Without self-consciousness, they’re allowed to explore their imagination fully. This intrinsic self-esteem also allows children to ask questions unabashedly. If a child doesn’t understand something, if they want more information or if they’re thinking deeply about something – they will ask you any and all related questions.
As anyone with kids will know, sometimes these questions can be really silly and sometimes they can be strangely insightful.
4. They’re less aware of convention
Have you ever looked closely at a child’s artwork? If they want to use glitter, they’re using glitter. If they want to draw a unicorn that’s playing table tennis, you better believe they’re doing that too. Kids don’t play by the rules of what’s ‘normal’ or what’s expected.
They’re not trying to work within existing parameters because they don’t know about existing parameters. They have total creative freedom.
How can we foster creativity at work?
So, now that we know what children have over us, how can we learn from them?
Here are a few ways to shock your brain back into a state of childlike creativity at work.
1. Take a non-judgmental and free approach to brainstorming
How many ideas do you think have been lost because people have felt too shy or nervous about sharing them? Most people become nervous about sharing their ideas after a bad experience. Sometimes it only takes one sneer, sideways look or scoff to really deter someone from putting themselves out there again.
If you’re running a brainstorming session, jump up before it begins to make it clear that there are no bad ideas.
In fact, the weirder and more out-of-the-box concepts your team comes up with, the better. Make a note of every idea that is discussed, and try not to favour or discard any ideas when brainstorming. Remember – you can edit and pick ideas apart later, for now – it’s all about imagination.
2. Change your environment
When you come into the office and sit at the same desk every day, or when you work from home with all of your regular comforts, the brain can start to get a little stale. Having creative ideas is often about keeping your mind fresh.
A great way to keep the brain stimulated is by mixing up your environments and routines. You don’t have to go on an expensive international holiday (even if that was an option), something as small as walking around the block, working from a nearby coffee shop or exploring your local area can keep you refreshed and provide space for that creative spark.
3. Allocate time for free thinking
How often do you start a workday with the best of intentions to do some creative planning or thinking, only to look up after a busy day of tasks to see the clock tick over to 5pm? Very rarely is an innovative thought going to come to you when you’re rushing between meetings or answering emails.
You’re on autopilot, and you’re focused on getting things done. This is the very unimaginative part of imagination – you have to block out time and dedicate yourself to it. You need to regularly practise creative thinking to improve at it.
What’s the best way of doing this? Whether it’s a daily, weekly or monthly practice, block out some time in your calendar for creative thinking. Get on your own and just write down all of your thoughts and ideas until time’s up.
For best results, combine this step with step 2, get out of your regular space – away from distractions – and let the creative juices flow.
4. Resist conformity
As human beings, sometimes we get inspired. It’s so easy to see someone else do something well and to try to emulate them. While this might be a good course of action if you’re following great leadership or completing technical tasks – trying to recreate others’ ideas will not help boost your creativity at work.
On another side of the same coin, working within the existing parameters of your business won’t see you conceive the idea that will set you apart.
True innovation calls for originality. So, even though it’s great to be aware of your competitors’ movements, they shouldn’t be the first place you look for inspiration. Instead, try to source some other things to get your brain ticking over – whether it’s having a creative session with someone outside your industry or visiting a creative space like an art gallery.
5. Ask stupid questions
Kids are infamous for their ridiculous questions, right? It’s all too easy to go down a rabbit hole when you’re having a conversation with a six-year-old.
First, they ask what’s for lunch, then they ask why the sky is blue, then they ask what even is the sky.
Although it can be overwhelming to answer these questions – they’re on the right track. Diving deep into questions that might initially seem silly or obvious can often yield some fascinating insights into your product, service and audience. From insights come ideas, so don’t be afraid to ask all the questions, no matter how silly they may initially seem.
Free your inner child, let your creativity loose
Creative thinking is one of the most powerful skills you can nurture as a professional. Looking towards the simple and powerful approach that children take can be a great source of inspiration to get you started.
The information in this article is current as at July 2023, and has been prepared by Employment Hero Pty Ltd (ABN 11 160 047 709) and its related bodies corporate (Employment Hero) for its Swag brand. The views expressed in this article are general information provided in good faith to assist job seekers in the current market, and should not be relied on as professional advice. Some Information is based on data supplied by third parties and whilst such data is believed to be accurate, it has not been independently verified and no warranties are given that it is complete, accurate, up to date or fit for the purpose for which it is required. Employment Hero does not accept responsibility for any inaccuracy in such data and is not liable for any loss or damages arising directly or indirectly as a result of reliance on, use of or inability to use any information provided in this article. You should undertake your own research and seek professional advice before making any important career decisions or solely relying on the information in this article.
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