What difference will creativity make in my business?

The demand for creativity is growing

It’s hard not to notice all the limelight that creativity is getting in press and on social media lately. The clarion call is sounding ever louder.

  • Creativity is first on the list of soft skills that companies need today (Sourced: LinkedIn Learning 2020 Workplace Learning Report)
  • Creativity is in the top three most important skills for the workforce, along with complex problem solving and critical thinking (Source: World Economic Forum)
  • Creativity is the number one capability that businesses require in order to navigate an increasingly complex world (Source: IBM survey of 1,500 CEOs)

We get it. Creativity is important!

Yet, we are not investing in creativity

Despite the ground swell of demand for this skill, the investment in creativity is lagging. Leaders are not putting their money where their mouth is.

We are still in a creativity crisis.

  • Average creativity scores for the total population have been falling since 1990 (Source: Prof. Kyung Hee Kim, The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores, Creativity Research Journal, 2011 – a study of almost 300,000 people)
  • Over 59% of people believe that they are not creative, and only 3 out of 10 people feel they are living up to their creative potential (Source: Adobe survey)
  • 87% of professionals worldwide feel stuck and disengaged at work (Source: Gallup)

What difference will creativity actually make to my business?

Perhaps one of the reasons why leaders are dragging their feet to assign budget to develop creativity in their workforces is that they don’t truly grasp the benefits. Creativity has historically been linked to artistry, so it’s no wonder that this has appeared to be a frivolous and wasteful pursuit for most businesses. In addition, education’s debasement of creative disciplines in favour of finance and technology have had a profound impact on how we think about creativity.

If you are on the fence about the value of creativity in your business, read on!

Because there’s no time to waste and many businesses are under extreme pressure, let’s examine a few of the benefits of investing in workforce creativity.

1.      Increased productivity

The creative mindset includes productivity-enhancing attitudes such as perseverance, curiosity and big picture thinking.

A creative thinker is intrigued rather than discouraged by failures. Because endeavours can be framed as experiments, failures can be analysed objectively and used to inform the next endeavour. Curiosity kicks in and a creative thinker will ask: “I wonder what I can do better next time? What if I do it this way?”  Thus, rather than giving up on new challenges, creative thinkers will lean forward and push the boundaries of productivity.

Curiosity is also a cure for the more cemented and risk-averse mindset of ‘We’ve Always Done It This Way’ or the popular, ‘Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken.’  A curious team will wonder: What if we tried a new way of engaging our clients? Are we missing a step in our customer journey map? What if there is a better way of communicating our strategy across the business? 

Of course, businesses need to develop operational efficiencies and consistencies in practices. I’m not implying every process should be tossed in the air to see if it still flies. However, a good tension between operational efficiency and thoughtful creative review should be maintained. I’ve been surprised by the number of times I’ve worked with a team where they’ve taken the time to apply some creative thinking to their work and someone has piped up: “Why do we produce this report anyway?” In one case (with a retail client) further investigation led the team to the conclusion that not one single person in the department they sent this time-consuming and energy-draining report to even looked at it!

In addition to perseverance and curiosity, creative thinkers tend to see the bigger picture. Association is a creative skill by which our mind seeks and makes connections. Creativity enables us to look at things from different angles and figure out how everything fits together.

“Productivity is often envisioned as dealing with the same tasks time and time again, as efficiently as possible. ... Encouraging creative thinking leads to employees' seeing the bigger picture and leveraging productive focus on issues with a deeper business impact.” Boland Jones, Founder and CEO, PGi.

According to Adobe's creativity study conducted in 2016, companies that invest in employee creativity can expect productivity to rise by up to 78%.  

2.      A more agile and resilient workforce

Remember Eyjafjallajökull? How can I forget. In 2010, I was working for a multinational technology company. Months and months of hard work lead up to the launch of a week-long leadership development programme which I had been co-labouring on with the talented Laura Malan from GIBS business school. Then Volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland erupted and air travel in Europe was grounded. We had delegates coming from all over the world, but our delegates from the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East made up a significant portion of the cohort. When it became clear that they were not able to get to South Africa to join the programme, their funding was withdrawn, and our programme was jeopardised. Whilst I panicked, Laura  was unperturbed and immediately put her mind to creative solutioning.  “We need to dance on moving carpets,” she breezed. I’ll never forget it and the lesson I learned from the resilience and adaptability she showed that was rooted in her creative mindset. In the end, she managed to convince other areas of the business to send replacement delegates and our long-awaited leadership programme went ahead with great success.

3.      More efficient problem solving

As we develop our creativity, we begin to recognise our old, habitual patterns of thought. When we truly pay attention (something that artists are very good at, but most of us are pretty rubbish at), we become aware of the mental constructs that we project onto the world. These constructs become a prison that keeps us in a cycle of thinking and behaving in the same way, unable to look at a problem from another point of view.

“When we move to the periphery of these self-inflicted boundaries, we come to a new window on the world. In this space we can suspend our own judgement and fear and see new possibilities,” says Anne Hartslief, leadership guru and Managing Director at Lockstep.  

So creative thinking enables us to turn a problem around in our mind in a way that logical or critical thinking cannot. We can begin to see it from new perspectives and break through boundaries of what we previously believed was correct/ best/ possible.

The famous quote of Albert Einstein’s puts it so well “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

4.      The discovery of hidden talent

The funny thing about creativity, is that when people start connecting with their creativity, previously hidden talents and skills begin to emerge.

This creative urge is like an energy source. It switches people on in a way that talent managers completely underestimate. One CEO who does not underestimate it is Vishen Lakhiani, CEO of Mind Valley. He gets all his employees to write up their creative pursuits and life vision and to exchange them with each other via a shared vision board.  He finds that this process builds trust, brings people alive and helps his workforce share hidden talents.

What might you discover about your people when they start thinking more creatively?

  • You might discover that an employee has an incredible voice and can sing on your radio advert (as one of our clients did.)
  • You may find a person in your team is a talented writer and can create copy for your customer engagement emails.
  • Someone could be comedian-in -hiding and could do a few minutes of stand-up to add energy and connection to some of your team meetings.

Who knows what valuable talent you will uncover right underneath your nose!


5.      More innovation

There is no innovation without creativity. If you want your people to innovate, you should encourage them to get into the habit of creating things.

Our brains are not boxed into neat little compartments. We use thinking and reasoning from one sphere of our lives and apply it in another sphere. This is known as analogical reasoning. So, when we use creative curiosity to find out how a car engine works or explore ancient Peruvian history or learn how to keep beehives in our garden, we are building our capacity for thinking and reasoning. This capacity is then available for use to help us innovate in our jobs as accountants or business analysts or marketers or systems integrators.

Strategy author, Robert Green uses the analogy of biodiversity to describe this process of creative capacity building. The more species there are in an ecosystem, the richer that ecosystem will be. When your employees develop their creativity, you will have a rich ecosystem in your organisation, one that provides fertile soil for innovation and growth.

6.      Happier people

Last on this short list, but certainly not least, and increase in creativity is directly correlated with an increase in well-being. A creative practice can increase our happiness and allows us to cope with challenging experiences. The bottom line is when people are happier and more engaged, they perform better.

 The writing is on the wall

“Won’t developing my people’s creativity open up a Pandora’s box of wacky ideas that we can’t and shouldn’t execute on?” Yes, you could open yourself to a few crazy suggestions but these can easily be managed with the right culture and meaningful dialogue. Besides, this is only one small piece of the picture. 

If this is what you are worried about, it would be like worrying you should take your car out onto the road for fear that it may get scratched. So you keep all that horse-power and all that drive locked away safely in your garage and occasionally you go and sit in the car to  listen to the radio.


If you want to find out more about building creative thinking capacity in your team, connect with us on LinkedIn or drop us a line at [email protected]

 Photos by James Pond @ Unsplash




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