Nurturing creativity in your employees

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Nurturing creativity in your employees

Do you know how to nurture creativity in your employees? Do you realise how important this is as a business strategy? Creativity researcher Mark Batey explains why you should be concerned about this in his articles on Psychology Today.


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Published: Sun 18 Nov 2012, 9:44 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:20 PM

Batey defines creativity as “the capacity within individuals to develop ideas for the purpose of solving problems and exploiting opportunities.” He defines innovation as “the application of creativity to give rise to a new concept, product, service or process delivering something new and better to the world.”

Can your business do without innovation? No business can. The Boston Consulting Group Strategy Survey continually finds that creativity and innovation are strategic imperatives reports Batey, and the 2009 Everyday Innovation Survey found that every job in every industry requires creativity.

A Connecting Innovation to Profit study conducted by Ernst and Young has found that creative thinking skills are “directly linked to growth and achievement” and an IBM survey of CEOs has found that creativity is considered a more important leadership skill than integrity or vision. Batey quotes one of the Ernst and Young study participants as saying: “We assume that 50 per cent of our revenue in five years’ time must come from sources that do not exist today. That is why we innovate.” Creativity can be learned and it can be nourished says Batey but you might not realise that creativity cannot be forced.

“Aha!” moments may seem like they come out of the blue but in reality, creativity involves many brain regions, processes and time. Jonah Lerner, author of “Imagine: How Creativity Works” tells NPR interviewers that creative insights only come when we’re not looking for them, when we allow our thoughts to wander, when we’re seemingly unfocused. You cannot chase creativity: you have to allow it. Creativity occurs when our brains connect seemingly unconnected things. Lerner tells the story of how Dan Wieden came up with one of the most successful advertising slogans: Nike’s “Just Do It.” Someone had mentioned the author Norman Mailer to Wieden and at some point in his work, he took a mental break and remembered a line by a Mailer character, a man facing execution who said “Let’s do it.” Wieden was struck by the sentiment of the remark, it’s simple bravery. He changed one word and had his slogan.

Lerner says taking a break can be one of the most productive things you can do. Free time, unfocused thinking, access to alpha waves helps the brain to be creative. Alpha waves occur when you’re relaxed, not driven.

How can you help such moments to occur among your employees? This may be the most difficult thing. We’re used to associating work with pressure, with deadlines, with focused and intense labour whether it is physical or mental. How do you feel when you see your employees enjoying some non-work related banter? Or staring out the window? Or doodling? You’re probably inclined to tell them to get to work right? Yet these kinds of activities are just the kind of thing that leads to creative thinking.

Lehrer says that the most innovative companies support free time for their employees, they nourish a workplace that helps employees to be relaxed and in a good mood. Scientific research has found that creative thinking is most likely to occur when people are relaxed and happy.

3M, says Lehrer, is one of the most innovative companies. They have an almost one to one ratio of new products and employees. 3M gives their engineers an hour every day to do whatever they want. The employees don’t have to justify what they do and this free time fosters creativity.

Steve Jobs, says Lehrer, purposefully put bathrooms far away from work areas because he wanted his employees to encounter others on their bathroom forays. He knew that these random meetings and unstructured time could spark innovation and creativity.

On, Megan Hustad writes about creativity and the gestation mode. As a writer, Hustad knows that creativity requires an incubation period, that leaving something alone or taking a break improves the overall result.

Hustad does freelance work for corporations and says that managers make true creativity unlikely to occur because they don’t look favorably upon taking breaks or being playful at work. They want to see workers focused and in “closed mode.” Closed mode refers to the implementation part of work, when the brain is closed and focused and busy. Open mode is the creative part of work, when the brain is open and playful and random. Allowing people to switch between these modes is best yet managers can have a hard time changing their ideas about what work is. These free periods allow the brain to make connections and nourishes a creative idea. Gestation periods or incubation is how truly innovative ideas come to be. Tim Berner-Lee’s idea about the world wide web gestated for 10 years says blogger Steve Wheeler, and Thomas Edison’s light bulb idea only occurred after many trials. A creative idea only emerges after it has incubated and has been nourished by many brain connections and random exposures to data.

Try not to overly pressure your employees as too much focus and too much pressure will stifle creativity. Expose your employees to new things and different perspectives to spark creativity. Allow free time and social time. Encourage lunch break walks and you may see improvements to your bottom line.

The writer is an executive coach and HR training and evelopment expert. She can be reached at or Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy

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