A creative mindset in the workforce can help a company come up with new ideas and approaches and compete in a competitive market environment. But how does an organisation inspire its employees to come up with groundbreaking ideas that give it an edge?
“Creativity and our ability to problem-solve kind of diminishes as we get older,” says Sally Elliott, surface strategy lead at Microsoft. “Somehow, as we go through the education system, it is almost kind of booted out of us. As we start to get into the workplace and into formal education, more processes come into play.”
It is important for employees to be able to regain that creativity, explains Elliot, as innovation and problem solving increasingly become core skills in the workplace. A report by McKinsey has predicted that, by 2030, demand for higher cognitive skills such as creativity and critical thinking will have increased.
Technologies such AI will help improve employees’ creative functions, believes Elliot, as the data AI generates can be used to gain an insight into what is going on in their organisation. It can help firms understand why certain products are not working, or where to develop portfolios, and as AI can take up the slack performing more routine tasks, time is freed up for employees to work on other things.
“It really is going to open up numerous opportunities for people to think about how [they] can be more creative and problem solve,” she says.
Elliot believes having an AI strategy will soon be vital for companies – she points to research by Microsoft which found that organisations already on that journey are outperforming other organisations by 5 per cent in factors such as productivity, performance and business outcomes.
The environmental factor
But technology is not the only thing that can make workers more creative – the workplace environment itself can also be a contributing factor. “Gone are the days where you come into a single office and sit at your desk from nine to five to do your job,” says Elliot. “It is much more about how you work with others, and how you collaborate.
“You need inspiring workplaces to be able to do that. It is not just making sure we have interesting meeting rooms – it is about making your whole workplace an inspiring place to be.”
She thinks restrictive workplace design that inhibits people from working in different ways stifles creativity. A study by Microsoft Surface showed that 41 per cent felt uninspiring workplaces were a major obstacle to creative working, while 34 per cent said a stressful atmosphere, and 28 per cent a lack of appropriate spaces, were also hindrances.
Out of the box
Elliot does not favour cubicle-based working, where people can only get together in meeting rooms. Although she thinks open plan has its place, it can also distract employees – if someone wants to come over and have a chat, it can be distracting for people working nearby.
“If you are going into your office every day and you sit in a row with a bunch of people and you put your headphones on, that is a bit of blocker,” she says.
The best way to create an office environment where employees can be more creative and productive, Elliot believes, is through culture – and this should start from the top. She feels senior that leaders should be nurturing their staff to make them feel like they can take breaks when they need to, or get up and walk about and have a change of scenery or work flexibly.
“All of that again starts to foster creativity, and allows people to come up with ideas when it is more relevant to them,” she says. “That is down to culture.”
Elliot uses her own diary as an example, where she has two hours on a Wednesday set aside for growth mindset thinking, where she can do her research or collaborate on social. It is important for employers to trust their employees to do that, she says. “It’s trusting in that process – giving people the flexibility to think differently.”
Ultimately, says Elliot, if staff members are too tired it is unlikely they will be able to work efficiently. “It is just thinking about how you can help employees reduce stress, providing them with times to reduce and rejuvenate,” she says. “When you can do that, it frees up that employee [with] space to think creatively again.”
There are many benefits to having an office environment which fosters creative ways of working, Elliot concludes. It not only keeps employees more engaged, but also gives them the opportunity to develop and be more innovative, which will ultimately help any company gain a competitive edge.