All work and play: Developing a creative workforce

12th Jun 2009

Ignite the imagination of your staff and they will be more engaged with the company, boosting the customer experience. How do you tap into their ideas? Well, here's a thought: create an environment where staff can let their creativity loose! Mocky Khan, of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, gives six top tips on how to get started.

'Rinse and repeat': The first shampoo manufacturer to add these three little words to the label doubled the company's global sales overnight. The first matchstick manufacturer to put a strip of sandpaper on the side of the box became a multi-millionaire. There's likely to be at least one big idea among your workforce but just how do you find them?

Many business owners are recognising that building creativity into their own and their employees' day can encourage valuable innovations and improve business. In fast-changing sectors or highly competitive markets – where you may imagine even less time can be given over to anything not directly related to productivity – allowing creative 'play time' can be particularly beneficial.

  The benefits of a creative business?

* Creative skills help people solve problems in new ways.

* Creative workplaces benefit from increased employee satisfaction.

* Creative cultures suffer less staff turnover.

* Creative firms attract good recruits.

* Creativity helps generate a flexible and future-proof environment.

* Creativity contributes to the quality and quantity of work produced.

* Creativity results in variety and reduces stress.

You don't have to go as far as some blue-chip bosses who have recently embraced the idea of the 'play at work' culture: blowing bubbles across the call centre, building a company football pitch or installing a games arcade in the canteen. But if you are a leader who wants to unearth those hidden nuggets of ideas in your business, try these practical tips gathered from the creativity experts.

Five tips for harnessing creativity:

1. Continually communicate the idea that ideas and playfulness are valuable and rewarded.

People are afraid of coming up with new ideas they think will sound silly. Install an ideas box with awards for different categories such as best big idea, best small idea.

2. Set aside time for creativity, have planning away-days or take existing away-days in a more inspiring venue.

Give small signals to your staff that it's OK to play. Leave fun objects, posters, food and drinks in key areas around your offices or meeting rooms to make it feel more like a leisure venue. It blurs the line between 'downtime' and 'heads-down time' – bringing together previously separate elements is where all good ideas begin.

3. Give your staff realistic workloads.

No one can be creative if they are fitting a 12-hour day into eight. Remember and remind people that creativity is fun but is not an end in itself unless it results in an innovation. For an idea to be successful, carry out a risk analysis and a return on investment calculation

4. Use a creative agency on specific projects or activities such as marketing or advertising.

Get them to involve your own staff as much as possible in the creative process to stimulate your own creativity.

5. Amend your projects and processes so they incorporate the four stages of creativity P-I-I-V:

Preparation: assemble your creative team and brief them on the initial problem. Help them immerse themselves in the topic by reading around, listening to customer research or interviews. This is the stage to encourage questions – especially stupid ones.

Incuation: letting the problem 'bed in', allow time for mulling it over. The best ideas come when you're thinking of something completely different. Incubation can be perceived as downtime but it is during this time that 'a-ha!' moments can arise. Two creative techniques for 'sweating out' ideas are brainstorming and hot-housing.

Inspiration: the Eureka moment! Ideas usually present themselves in an unfinished form and need a lot of developing before they fully address the problem. When reviewing ideas, be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water – often it is not the whole idea that is wrong, just a particular execution or representation of it.

Verification: where great ideas meet the cold light of day there can be a lot of work to do to help them succeed in the real world. You need to evaluate the risks and opportunities.


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