Do you need a 'hip' space to be creative?

When I hear the ‘creative space’ my mind immediately jumps to the well documented and often copied Google offices around the world and it seems to have caught on in a big way. Look at the offices Fortune’s 2016 feature “The 18 Coolest Offices of the 100 Best Companies”. Very impressive indeed.

Does that mean that we should revamp our offices and create spaces and ‘idea tanks’ with bean bags and whiteboard paint walls, buy tons of LEGO® and install basketball hoops and offer on-site massages? Are meetings held on the volley-ball court or over a game of table-tennis rather than the boardroom? Mostly likely a heap of fun for the ‘blue sky thinkers’, probably very uncomfortable for the ‘box tickers’ and those not good at ball sports!

However, creativity (the ability to think of new ideas or create new things) is not the product of changing a space or introducing bean bags and whiteboard walls only. Creating a safe working environment that nurtures creativity and balances between the needs of the ‘box tickers’ and the ‘blue sky thinkers’ is easier than you think and doesn’t have to mean a huge office revamp!

Leaders are the starting point to creating a work environment that nurtures creativity, participation, accountability adaptability and innovation. Liz Ryan, in an article written for Forbes.com about innovation puts it so succinctly:

The old 'work machine,' the system of ideas, organizational structure, processes, metrics and tools invented in the Industrial Revolution was built to crank out widgets one after the other. It does not support innovation, collaboration or agility, the very things any organization needs to survive in the new-millennium marketplace.

Arguably, the same applies for creativity

Source: Forbes.com

Ryan goes on to list ten things in her article that make a lot of sense to me. They are 10 habits killing innovation that are indeed a regular feature in most large corporates and are characteristics of a typical leadership style in most corporates, at all levels. In my last blog I wrote about ‘the business of business is serious and structured’ well these 10 things are just that, ‘serious and structured’ and shut down any ounce of creativity that may exist.

Now visualize a work environment where;

  • employees are trusted to do what they are employed to do without being measured within an inch of their lives? I know that I do not flourish in a highly regulated, micro managed environment, do you?

  • strategy workshops are skillfully facilitated and where everyone gets a chance to contribute meaningfully

  • meetings are solution seeking instead of problem solving meetings

  • employees are self-aware

  • communication is considered and respectful yet honest at every level (no political shenanigans and double speak)

  • teams that are positive and collaborative instead of negative and turf-protecting

  • when asked, employees say “You know is a great place to work, not every day is perfect however I am heard, recognized and encouraged to contribute my ideas

Do I hear the snorts of derision from a few of you? “Has she lost touch with reality”, “Let her come and see what I have to deal with daily then she if her ideas are so smart”. That is exactly my point, and the point Ryan (2016) talks to – the lack of even trying, a fear of moving out of our comfort zones of traditional organizational structures in stopping business being creative and innovative.

I wrote about moving away from what is perceived to be the ‘corporate way to do things’ to a new order that embraces the new world of work in September 2016. This is critically important in times of fast and extreme change.

“My thinking is we (by this I mean everyone involved in the ongoing education, coaching and mentoring of current and future leaders) need to be teaching our leaders of now and the future skills like creativity, systems thinking principles, design thinking, the importance of immediacy, the power of collaboration, adaptability & resilience”

All the things I mentioned in the work environment, I asked you to visualize earlier, are not that difficult to set into motion. All it takes is one brave leader to say “This is the new normal, all ideas are equal. We actually listen to everyone who has an idea, we engage and evaluate the idea holistically and take it from there.” Then that leader actually does what he says – meetings become spaces where everyone attending is encouraged to participate, and not be the ‘head-nodders’ to everything that is said to just get the heck of out the meeting…

In short, a safe space for nurturing creativity is one where:

  • Leaders build collaborative, complementary teams

  • There is no place for big egos

  • Everyone is encouraged to share their ideas

  • Acknowledgement that not one person has all the answers

  • No need to wait for a meeting to ideas to be presented in a ‘forum’

  • Ideas are nurtured and encouraged

  • Every idea is given air time

Uncompromising? Yes of course! Possible? Yes! Try it, move out your comfort zone and things do change and you’ll be amazed at how many people have very interesting and valuable ideas. We are all a whole lot more creative than we think, we’ve just got to get rid of the notion that creativity can only happen in a ‘hip’ workspace.

In my next blog, I will explore ‘hip’ offices space, workplace communication and strategy session facilitation a little more.

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