How to help everyone on your team be creative

There is a myth that only certain people have a ‘creative personality’ and if you don’t well that means you can’t be creative. However, in years of research on creativity, this has not been proven. Anybody can be creative in the right context and if they are given the right opportunities. The secret to having more creativity in your team is not by hiring more people who you think are creative, but by unlocking creativity in your current employees. Here is what you need to do to unlock creativity in your team.

Cultivate Expertise – For decades, creativity researchers have consistently found that expertise is crucial in order to produce high quality creative work and the expertise must be specific to a particular field. This means that the first step to being creative is becoming and expert in a specific field or domain.  The reason why this is so important is that you need to be an expert in a specific field in order to understand what the problems are what would make up a new solution.  So how do you develop expertise? Anders Ericsson studied this issue for decades and came to the conclusion that critical element is deliberate practice. You need to identify the different elements of a skill, encourage your employees to work on week areas and offer coaching.

Encourage Exploration – Although expertise in a specific field is vital for creativity, it is not enough. In any good creative work, you will find an important insight which came from outside the original field. Often it an insight which seems random, that transforms ordinary work. For example, David Hume’s philosophy help lead Einstein to special relativity. Recently, researchers analysing almost 18 million scientific papers discovered that the most citied work is more likely to come from an expert team in one field working with a specialist in a totally different field. There expertise combined is what leads to breakthroughs. Google have implemented a “20% time” policy which functions as a human-powered search engine for creative ideas. By allowing their employees to spend 20% of their time on projects outside of their fields and unrelated to their job description, employees with different areas of expertise can work together in a way that would be unlikely in a planned company initiative.

Empower through Technology – Often, how much technology can improve productivity is overlooked. This is partly because it makes acquiring specialist expertise a lot easier, it is also because it frees up time for more experimentation. This can be seen at Pixar which started out as a tech company who started making short films in order to show what animation software (which was their original product) could do. Whilst they were experimenting with this technology, they also found themselves experimenting with storytelling. These experiments enabled Pixar to become one of the highest acclaimed studios in history.

Reward persistence – Most of the time creativity is thought of as an initial great idea followed by a straightforward period of carrying out his idea. However, this is not the case. As Ed Catmull, founder of Pixar said, early ideas are like ‘ugly babies’, they need to be protected from being judged too quickly. However, when it comes to organisations, they tend to do the opposite. If an idea initially doesn’t look promising, they kill the idea quickly without giving it a chance. IBM however, is a firm that has been able to shake this trend. Their research team often work on extraordinary ideas way before they are commercially feasible.

A lot of the time, organisations quit. They expect their ideas to be perfect right from the start and view the creation as a one off even rather than a whole process. As a result, they often don’t invest in exploring new ideas or expertise and don’t accept any wrong turns. This needs to continue to change and fostering creativity throughout the whole team is essential! For more information on our leadership/team coaching visit our website!

Satell, G. (2018) Set the Conditions for Anyone on Your Team to Be Creative [Online]

John Baer (2015) The Importance of Domain-Specific Expertise in Creativity, Roeper Review, 37:3, 165-178, [Online]

Catmull, Ed. (2014) Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Random House

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