Things for organizations to try: Improving Creativity

Research shows we're more creative when we're happy, and happiness flows from our involvement in creative processes.

10 Creativity - org

1. Create a culture of creativity

We have more fun when we play and we’re also more creative. For instance, Jane Fonda says that ultimately that we can do serious work, without doing it seriously. In the workplace we often need cultural permission to play, and so colleagues may need help stepping out of their normal “doing” mode into more creative mindsets and spaces.

How to do it:

  • Take leaders through Harvard Business School psychologist, Teresa Amabile’s six components that encourage creativity has:
  • Challenge – matching people’s skills and interests to the project or problem.
  • Freedom – flexibility over how to achieve a goal.
  • Resources – allowing enough resources, particularly time and money.
  • Group features – bringing together a group of mutually supportive team members with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.
  • Supervisory encouragement – keeping pressure for results down and encouragement for failures and successes up.
  • Organizational encouragement – having values and processes which support and encourage creativity, for instance avoiding extrinsic motivation like money for success, which can stifle creativity.
  • To make sure leaders don’t feel creativity is going to lead to lower productivity, give time bound frameworks to your creative processes.
  • Remember: dead ends can be a time drain, but exploring them is part of the creative process.

2. Develop capacities for creativity

For some teams creativity will be core to what they do, while for others it won’t. Both John Cleese and Seth Godin write that creativity is a choice and a skill which we can nurture. They give practical tips on how to create the best conditions for being creative. Remember: it's not what we do, but how we approach our work which matters for feeling creative. Whenever we find a way of doing things better, we are being creative.

How to do it:

  • Learn together about the when, why, where and how we're creative – this can help us become intentional about practicing our creative skills more often.
  • Schedule a time to sit down together to discuss what being creative feels like. Think about:
  • When were we bored this week?
  • When did we feel totally immersed in what we were doing?
  • When did we solve something?
  • When did we get totally stuck. and what unlocked us?
  • Anchor your creative process to a North Star or overarching goal which can help guide the process.

3. Standardization, slack and flow

We're living in an era when email, alerts and social media create work environments where sustained and deep focus is harder and more and options and customizations are encouraged, even expected. Consider how you can create the space for people to be more creative. Develop environments that encourage people to have time to be quiet and present, and to engage in a state of flow

How to do it:

  • Identify whether your organization is stuck in a vicious operational cycle by asking:
  • Is low investment in people leading to operational problems?
  • Is this leading to lower sales and performance?
  • Does this, in turn, mean less capital to pay fair wages and invest in people?
  • Engage your operational colleagues in a discussion about standardization of product/service and operating with slack. More heads is better than one!
  • Consider changing people's work environments to help people experience flow and mind wandering. Try exploring:
  • A reduction in meetings - in number and length.
  • Diarising time for people to work uninterrupted.
  • Quiet spaces for people to work individually.
  • Reiterating priorities.
  • Promoting the value of regular breaks.
  • Encouraging people to get fresh air.
  • Remember the design of good jobs is an exercise in stripping back to the essence of what your organization does, before resourcing it properly to excel!


Johann Hari's book Stolen Focus explores how sustained and focused work is becoming much harder. This is bad news for happiness too because one of the most satisfying feelings we experience is a state of flow - where time and space melt away.

In her book on The Good Jobs Strategy, Zaynep Ton found two of the key differences between those organizations with high turnover and those with low turnover was product / service standardization and operating with slack. Rather than have too many things to focus on and too little time to do them, organizations with good jobs had standardized processes and hired more manpower than was needed. Both create space for employees to really know their jobs, their products, their customers and go above and beyond without getting overly stressed or burned out.

Case study

Toyota has emphasized standardization with empowerment. Employees know the process and how long it should take, freeing up time to problem solve on the production line when problems arise - which they always do!