Creative, Jerry's Thoughts

A Manger’s Guide to Diagnosing a Creativity-Suppressing Environment

In an IBM survey of more than 1,500 executives, creativity was widely ranked as the number one determinant of business success—above discipline, management, and even vision. Further, another study indicated that 80 percent of executives anticipate increasing complexity in their industry, yet only 49 percent believe their organization will be able to adapt to the change. With this changing landscape, fostering an environment of creativity is imperative to success. While there is no pill or equation to increase creativity, there are changes that can be made to promote creativity. To better help managers identify where their team might fall short, here is a five-question guide to diagnosing a creativity-suppressing environment.

1. What resources do you need to succeed in your responsibilities?  

Put a person in an empty room with no materials and tools, and he or she will likely struggle to innovate and create. Likewise, an employee who lacks the necessary tools, resources, people, and time will struggle to think creatively. That said, an infinite amount of resources can also prove to be detrimental. One researcher found that, “When you have more resources, you come up with maybe less efficient ideas, or maybe more resource-intensive ideas, whereas when you know you have a lot more finite resources, you typically tend to be more creative.” This requires managers to consciously monitor the flow of resources—a too restricted flow of resources may choke creativity, while an excessive outpour might drown effectiveness. If your employee responds to this question with a clear response as to the what and why of a needed resource, it is in the best interest of the business to take the request seriously.  

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2. How much time do you take daily to think ‘outside the box?’  

Many good employees will feel they are wasting company time to step away from their assigned tasks to brainstorm. While thinking creatively should not come at the expense of unfinished tasks, feeling comfortable with taking some time to think outside the box will help employees work creatively. With the many current tasks employees face day-to-day, taking this time is often not top-of-mind. If an employee responds that they are taking little to no time for this type of thinking, managers should help employees schedule this time regularly to ensure that it happens.  

3. What is the last achievement you felt proud of at work? 

This multi-faceted question reveals two important aspects of your creative culture. If the person cannot recall the last achievement they felt proud of, it may be that they are not working creatively and improving what they do. If they can think of an achievement, but you did not know about or did not praise them for it, then the culture lacks the recognition needed to foster creativity. Recognition from peers and direct leaders provides validation for a job well done, especially when that employee put in the effort to think bigger. Praised creativity leads to future creativity.  

4. How do your responsibilities fit into the ‘bigger picture’ of the business? 

An article by entrepreneur Yoram Soloman says of creativity, “To be creative, employees like to see how their part of the project fits within the bigger picture of the whole project, and how their success (or failure) would impact the company.” One of a manager’s specialized roles is to understand the vision of the business and help their direct reports actively participate in that vision. If your employees cannot articulate how what they do daily fits into the larger goals of the business, they will not understand the importance of their part in the puzzle. There is little motivation to think creatively when an assignment feels mundane or unimportant to the success of the business.

5. How are your talents being used in your position? 

While not everyone exudes originality in their work, individuals are often more creative when their passions and talents are involved. Understanding an employee’s strengths, talents, and interests provides a manager invaluable information to build teams effectively. Have an open conversation with employees about how they can leverage their talents to work more effectively. If your employee lacks the confidence to recognize their own talents (this happens), a manager can help them identify what they do well and help them develop some creative confidence in these abilities. This increased attention to employee talents will not only foster greater creativity but also a happier workforce.  

Every business runs into lulls of creativity. I recently had a discussion at a department at one of my businesses about stepping up their creativity to improve the efficiency and aesthetics of their work. I also regularly encourage my employees to expand their knowledge and experience through continued education on the clock. The end goal of it all is increased creativity and performance. While these questions will not transform every business’ creative prowess, they can guide managers to uncovering attitudes that suppress your creative environment. 

Written by Jerry Williams, Partner at ANS

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