Harnessing creative capability for work wins

In today’s rapidly evolving modern world, an ability to define, develop and deploy fresh, flexible thinking and doing is perhaps more important than ever. With technological advancement and automation at play, we strive to maintain our own sense of self and wellbeing on one hand and enhance relevance through resourcefulness on the other.

Hence, the positive effects of creativity for individuals and industries, plus the nature of the relationship between its presence in and out of work, have received growing interest in recent years. It seems the more we understand its inherent problem-solving and psychological benefits, the more we can move to harness these across the board to build creative capability.

yellow lightbulbs

The concept of ‘being creative’ is often viewed quite narrowly – a certain type of person, role or approach applicable to a limited number of areas or undertakings. But, as the University of Melbourne’s Creative Industries and Design Academic Program Director Dr Melissa Laird sees it, that isn’t doing it justice.

She states that ‘Creativity is a phenomenon, a skillset and an attitude’. Her research has taught her that the best innovations come from connecting diverse sources. By having diverse, creative thought, businesses can challenge themselves to come up with solutions that otherwise would not have been thought of.

“I like to use the metaphor of a kaleidoscope when describing it – with action prompting change, the lens turns and the whole image reconfigures, each fragment shifting to form a new multi-faceted whole.”

The World Economic Forum notes creativity and complex problem solving is within the top 10 skills required to successfully adapt to the rise of automation. However, Dr Laird reminds us that creativity isn’t always related to solving problems, nor solely to the world of work:

“Although it has great benefits for workplace activity and productivity, creativity promotes rapid scenario-prototyping, curatorship and decision-making that can be as useful in life outside of the office as in it. Outcomes can span the full spectrum of practices, ideas, philosophies, information and data – deciding how to construct a complex quality assurance system or streamlined operations strategy is every bit as creative as developing a production design for a fully-staged opera, an education plan to stimulate young learners, composing a song or choreographing then performing a new dance routine – in ‘step’ with others!”

sticky notes

The question of how organisations can best facilitate and maintain creativity can seem both subjective and complex, but with research shining a light on more and more real world examples of how it can deliver an uplift in productivity and people-based metrics, its one that businesses are becoming more eager to explore. Yes, it’s a more disruptive and much less quantifiable practice than the many day-to-day, deadline driven processes that productivity typically embodies, but there are still some sure ways that the two can feed each other as well as merely co-exist.

The claim that ‘creativity is born, not learned’ was rethought some time ago, with a landmark 2004 study in the US determining that training does improve one’s ability to creatively problem solve and come up with multiple original ideas. For Dr Laird, however it’s still less about acquiring creativity and more about its activation, followed by the degree to which it is encouraged and embraced:

“Creativity is accessible to everyone because everyone is, to varying degrees, creative. While it’s true that tools and tactics can help focus our attention, it’s activating creative capacity which is key to unlocking its many personal and organisational benefits. Activation of individual creativity takes courage – curiosity, self-awareness and embracing of failure, and perseverance, promoted by access to collaboration through community.

By activating your creativity, you enable access to multiple outcomes. Once curated and applied to your practices, it can empower teams to safely collaborate and make shared judgements. More personally, it can support the self-efficacy to make sound decisions, enable responsiveness to change, and pave the pathways for communicating empathetically and efficiently.”

The cross-pollination of creative thinking and more ‘traditional’ skills is borne by the suggestion that employees who engage in non-work related creative activities can enjoy job performance improvements as a result, as uncovered by psychologists in a 2014 San Francisco State University study. Regardless of what type of activity individuals identified as a creative outlet – from writing or art to videogaming or learning to play a musical instrument – they were found to positively influence creative problem solving, multisensory skills, executive function and proficiency in assisting colleagues, going beyond just benefits for how workers feel, which themselves include work-friendly experiences of mastery, motivation, control and stress relief (thanks dopamine!).

The balance for organisations is being able to walk the line between encouraging the aforementioned upsides of ‘me-time’ creativity and using suitable environmental features, guardrails, company support systems and rewards to turbo charge the intrinsic motivation that creativity can bring to many workplace challenges. Google is one well known supporter of workplace creativity which has formally taken this to the next level in the past – their ’20 percent’ program empowered developers to spend up to a fifth of their paid hours on creative projects which they thought would be of most benefit to the company.

As for technology’s bearing upon creativity itself, Dr Laird believes that despite its many advances and advantages, it remains what it’s always been – a tool.

“The internet or personal digital devices enable us to the extent that each of us use them, and in what ways. Technology has no bearing on creativity per se, however, it can be used to explore, showcase and share the creative process in a myriad of marvellous ways.”

Understanding how and why creative capabilities can deliver benefits to professional problem-solving and communications, as well as psychological wellbeing, enables us to build these skills for ongoing work wins. The University of Melbourne has developed a pair of industry-aligned microcredentials which offer leaders, teams and individuals the expert insights and practical understanding they need to successfully harness creativity in their workplaces and careers.

Click the courses to learn more about how Generating Creativity and Digital Storytelling can benefit you or your business.

With special thanks to:

  • Dr Melissa Laird, Academic Program Director, Creative Industries and Design
    the University of Melbourne