Five ways leaders can drive employee creativity


There are many uncertainties facing businesses today, however, one thing is crystal clear. If an organisation intends to survive beyond COVID-19, they will have to unlock the unique creativity potential of every employee.

Despite researchers and academics touting the benefits of creativity for decades, along with the explosion of recent data highlighting that creativity is now the number one skill companies seek in new talent, most organisations have avoided serious conversations about creativity for decades. Believing it belongs in the sandpit, not on the spreadsheet.

But with the fallout of a global coronavirus pandemic, the impact of an emerging recession and the ongoing threat of climate change, it seems developing our ability to think differently is finally becoming a priority. So how can we cultivate more creativity in the workplace and establish team dynamics that activate and amplify more original thinking, asks Mykel Dixon, a creative leadership advisor, who works with leaders and teams of fortune 500 and ASX 200 listed companies.

Dixon, whose latest book is Everyday Creative: A Dangerous Guide To Making Magic At Work lists five ways leaders can be creative in this unprecedented year.

Mandate curiosity

Curiosity is the gateway to creativity. Without a desire to seek, discover and learn there is no data to dream with. Try starting the day by asking your team to name: ‘What is one thing I take for granted that I want to find out more about today?’ or ‘What is one practice or process I would like to change and why?’

At the close of a day, ask them to share their answers to the question: ‘what is one thing I learned today that surprised/inspired/challenged/frustrated me?’ Making curiosity a daily requirement, regardless of role or responsibility, will build the groundwork for a more innovative culture.


Make it visible

We’ve known for years that the greatest motivator at work is to feel a sense of meaningful progress. And the most effective way to do that, is to make progress visible. The same is true of our creativity. We need to see it everyday and be reminded why it matters. Why not designate a wall in the office to ‘some-day, one-day’ ideas. Or build a ‘shrine of dangerous ideas’ in the foyer to celebrate near misses or failed innovations. Normalise creativity, courage and collaboration by keeping it within eye sight.

Autonomy over authority

Despite popular belief, creativity thrives under constraint. Giving your people specific outcomes they need to produce, within a specific timeframe can be a powerful platform for breakthrough creativity. So long as you don’t tell them ‘how’ to deliver. Letting them explore and experiment with their own way of reaching targets builds trust with you and confidence in their own ability to take risks. As Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile writes, ‘Autonomy around process fosters creativity because giving people freedom in how they approach their work heightens their intrinsic motivation and sense of ownership’.

Architect serendipity

If creativity is merely connecting the dots, we need our people to collect and collate as many different kinds of dots as they can. As leaders, we need to cultivate the conditions for creative collisions and nudge our people into unique circumstances with people they might not get regular access to. From job sharing, to a randomised buddy system, to sitting in on meetings outside your department or above your pay grade. Getting your team to connect with customers or colleagues outside of their regular routine amplifies their chances of finding fresh inspiration or uncovering new and novel ideas for their work.

Secure a safety net

Nothing kills creativity more effectively than a snide remark or a misplaced giggle. We all have creative wounds from childhood and a deep-seated fear of looking foolish, unprofessional or incompetent. So as a leader, it’s essential you cultivate a culture of empathy and empowerment. An atmosphere that celebrates the courage it takes to be creative. You can do this by constantly recognising and rewarding those who share their unpolished ideas and support others in testing theirs. Make it part of your team’s vernacular to highlight and hero anyone who steps up, takes a risk and tries something new!

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