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How to Design a Workplace to Inspire Creativity

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You want creative employees. You want people on your team who will innovate, generate new ideas, and help advance your company. So how do we make creativity happen?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to force people to be creative. In fact, demanding that people come up with something totally ingenious will usually cause them to freeze. Instead, what you must do is design your workplace environment and company culture so that it will engender creativity. Here’s more on why—and how—to make this happen.

Fun Office Workplace

© Flickr user Infusionsoft Sales

Starting With Why

Over on the Refresh Leadership blog, Ashlie Turley explains why creativity is important:

Sometimes it’s easy to think that only a select few employees or teams need to be creative. But creativity in the workplace should go far beyond the artists and writers in a business. Being creative – thinking of something entirely new or finding a new way of doing things – is important to every department and aspect of a company. That’s why creativity should be fostered by building an environment that inspires it.

Creativity impacts three aspects of business in particular. These aspects – efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability – also happen to be the areas of business that leaders are usually most concerned about. And that gives business leaders three vital reasons to consider bringing more creativity to their workplace.

These are good insights. We want people to be creative because doing so will help the business to run faster and get more done, as well as expand market share. But how can businesses actually inspire innovative thinking?

Invest in the Physical Environment

If your team members are coming to work in a building, consider allocating your budget to making that a comfortable, inviting space. That might mean painting the office yellow or installing artwork on the walls.

You can also consider your furniture or even a cordon off a sleeping room! Any change you make—as long as you do it with employee support—is likely to have an impact.

Encourage Open-Minded Thinking

The comedian and actor John Cleese is famously quoted as saying “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”

John Cleese

© Flickr user Luc Van Braekel

In a full-length lecture, Cleese explains:

People function at work in terms of two modes: open and closed. Creativity is not possible in the closed mode.

By the “closed mode” I mean the mode that we are in most of the time when we are at work.

We have inside us a feeling that there’s lots to be done and we have to get on with it if we’re going to get through it all.

We need to be in the open mode when pondering a problem — but! — once we come up with a solution, we must then switch to the closed mode to implement it. Because once we’ve made a decision, we are efficient only if we go through with it decisively, undistracted by doubts about its correctness.

To be at our most efficient, we need to be able to switch backwards and forward between the two modes. But — here’s the problem — we too often get stuck in the closed mode. Under the pressures which are all too familiar to us, we tend to maintain tunnel vision at times when we really need to step back and contemplate the wider view.

Encourage others to spend time in the “open mode.” And, encourage them to switch back to the closed mode to get things done.

Embrace Failure

This final tip is the easiest to explain but it may be the hardest to put into practice. As I wrote in my first book, failure is the secret to success. In order to find a way forward, we have to be willing to make mistakes and stumble.

Too many companies have a culture where failure is not an option. People are afraid of getting anything wrong which means they do not take risks. And if there is no chance of screwing up, it’s almost impossible to be creative.

Do whatever you can to let people know that it’s okay to fail (as long as they fix whatever they broke!) Celebrate your own mistakes and applaud when others step up to the plate and strike out. To engender a culture of creativity, you must also engender a culture that embraces failure as part of the process.

Now, get to it! Make your workplace an environment where everyone feels ready to invent new ideas and solutions that will make a difference.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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