There is no reason why creativity, innovation and problem-solving skills shouldn't be included in the everyday skills taught in every workplace, says organisational psychologist Dr Amantha Imber.
It is a myth that people are born creative, she says, because new ideas are formed when two existing thoughts combine in a new way. "So if you have a brain which has thoughts floating around in it, you are fully capable of being creative."
Every organisation says it wants a creative culture, Imber says, "but very few invest the time to learn even the simplest techniques to make it happen".
Australian workers are "facing a creativity chasm", she says. "There's a gulf between the level of support among workers for creativity training and the importance their employers place on it.
"Many organisations believe they will need to make big changes to create a culture that is conducive to creativity and innovation. Large-scale changes can help, but there are also many small things you can do that will have a big effect."
Imber says "thousands" of creativity-boosting methods have been published in top-tier journal articles, and have been "conclusively shown to increase creativity in conditions that are repeatable and demonstrably not due to chance", but they haven't become mainstream.
pose the "fat chance" challenge - before a meeting that requires creative thinking, "warm up" employees' brains by dividing them into groups and asking them to come up with three solutions in five minutes to an "impossible challenge" (such as raising Paris Hilton's IQ by 100 points by the end of the week).
"Given that it is impossible, non-creative thinking will not lead to a solution," Imber says. The problem can only be solved through taking a leap and thinking very creatively and laterally (solutions might include, for example, bribing the instructor for the IQ test answers, or making the test about fashion rather than general knowledge). Groups will then go on to generate innovative solutions to real-life problems;
raise happiness levels - provide a workplace with flexible working conditions and policies, and place part of the focus at work on having fun.
The brain produces more dopamine when people are happy, which improves divergent thinking;
avoid cash rewards for tasks that require creative thinking - focus on recognition instead.
Employees get caught up in achieving their targets and avoid risky behaviour, which causes creativity to "fly out the window". Recognising employees - by giving them awards, vouchers, or greater responsibility - is more effective than money in motivating them and encouraging creative thinking;
help workers relax - set up lunchtime classes to teach employees ways to relax, and encourage them to take lunch, morning- and afternoon-tea breaks to help them de-stress.
"Relaxation, the opposite of anxiety, widens our focus and increases our ability to digest large amounts of information and use this to solve the problem at hand."
encourage "squeezing" - ask employees to squeeze their left hands prior to creative thinking tasks, meetings and workshops.
Squeezing the left hand activates a brain circuit associated with thinking holistically and intuitively, and thus more creatively.
incorporate nature - pin up pictures of rainforests and waterfalls, and avoid furniture made from plastic or synthetic materials, opting for wood instead.
The natural environment is less structured than most offices, and "unstructured environments enhance creativity because they contain more stimuli for creative thought".
encourage interaction - ensure the workplace has areas for talking and sharing, and that partitions are low enough to allow people to talk to their neighbours.
Workplaces that provide opportunities for social interaction are generally more creative, Imber says, and tend to be more beneficial for innovation;
increase challenge - assign tasks based on employees' interests as well as their current workload, experience or capabilities, and always ask for feedback from workers to check they are feeling adequately challenged.
"One of the strongest predictors of creativity in the workplace is whether employees feel adequately challenged by their jobs. Those who feel their jobs are challenging and that the objectives and goals they are set stretch their capabilities are more likely to behave more creatively."
avoid creative 'labels' - resist labelling one department above all others 'creative'.
"When you give people a label, they tend to live up to it", Imber says, so either label everyone a creative person or drop the tag and the remaining workers will become more motivated and confident in suggesting their own ideas;
interrupt work - encourage workers to interrupt each other when they are completing tasks that require creative thinking.
Interrupting the day-to-day grind occasionally enhances creative thinking, because workers who take a step back from their tasks come up with new solutions. (Constant interruptions, on the other hand, can be disruptive instead of constructive); and
avoid competition - encourage workers to collaborate rather than compete against each other when creativity is called for.
When people collaborate they feel more comfortable sharing and debating thoughts, which can be powerful in shaping ideas and bringing them to life, Imber says.
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