5 (Science-Backed) Strategies for Unleashing Staff Creativity

how to unleash staff creativity

Whether you're the manager of a team or working on a project with a group of staff, there are times when creativity is needed.

And the more of it you can tease out from everyone, the better the results are going to be.

Now, let's not be mistaken here... creativity is not just a thing for artistic pursuits. It's about generating fresh ideas, thinking laterally, coming up with unique ways to solve complex problems... regardless of the field you work in.

So question is, how do you awaken the creative genius that’s slumbering deep within every member of your team?

Don’t worry. We’ve got five strategies you can use to do just that.

1. The comedy-and-candy strategy

No, it’s not a case of blatant bribery. This strategy goes back to solid scientific research, we promise!

Research shows that positive affect improves creative problem-solving.

To put it another way, if you boost someone’s mood, they’ll be more creative.

Scientific studies have traditionally used humorous videos or little bags of sugary treats to induce positive affect – like this one, which found that “seeing a few minutes of a comedy film or […] receiving a small bag of candy, improved performance on two tasks that are generally regarded as requiring creative ingenuity.”

Picturing a bespectacled scientist in a white lab coat handing out little bags of candy yet?

Amusing as that may be, you can adapt this strategy to the workplace in a variety of ways. Anything you can do to lift people’s mood a little can be a boon for creativity, whether it’s telling a joke, sharing around some coffee and snacks, or simply bringing warmth and smiles with you to an otherwise dull meeting.

2. The in-your-ears strategy

There’s a cliche around creative types, and you can probably picture it now. Messy desk, coffee cups by the mound, music tumbling into the ears via a pair of headphones.

But is sound really good for creativity?

According to studies, yes it is. To a point.

Research published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that a moderate level of ambient noise boosts creativity. We’re talking 70 decibels.

85 decibels or more, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Too much noise can crush creativity.

So if you want to use a music-as-creative-fodder strategy, go for it – it can certainly get the creative juices flowing. Just keep it to a reasonable noise level, and you’ll be much more likely to see the results.

3. The get-them-on-their-feet strategy

Here’s a simple yet effective way to break through a block when creativity stalls. Get everyone up on their feet.

Interesting research from Stanford University found that walking makes people more creative. And not just by a little bit – being on the move increased creative output by an average of 60 percent.

Now, in that research, even walking on a treadmill inside had marked results. But if circumstances (and weather) allow, why not hold a walking meeting in the great outdoors?

Even walking through the city can expose you and your team to elements of nature that will boost your mood and refresh your minds.

4. The give-it-a-break strategy

We’ve written before about the importance of a good work break. Breaks are like a reset key you can press: they restore your energy and decloud your mind.

So it’s no surprise then that breaks are proven to be good for creativity.

For example, one study found that trying to focus for a long time on one creative thinking task lead to people performing worse than if they switched between two tasks – therefore giving their minds a break.

Yet other research shows that mind-wandering facilitates creative incubation. Aka, doing something totally unrelated to the creative task – specifically something where the mind can have some downtime, wander and even be distracted – is a good thing.

Let’s imagine this in a practical scenario. Let’s say you’re having a brainstorming session and creativity is flagging. Don’t push on: encourage the group to take a break, go make coffee, go for a walk, do some mindless cleaning or even play a little game. It won’t be wasted time, because their creative ideas will be percolating underneath.

When you reconvene, the benefits will be two-fold. Everyone will be a little refreshed and reenergised and they’ll be ready to let their freshly percolated ideas rise to the surface.

5. The we’re-all-friends-here strategy

If there’s one thing that’s key to creativity, it’s being exposed to a wide variety of influences and ideas.

That’s where cross-collaboration comes in. Fostering a work environment where collaboration is encouraged between teams or departments is one surefire way to generate more creative outcomes.

Part of the benefit of this comes from an increase in diversity and exposure to different perspectives. Cultural diversity between teams, for example, has been shown to increase creativity.

So open up those doors, invite fresh perspectives, and look for new ways to work across teams.

Your organisational mission is ultimately the same – or, to put it another way, we’re all friends here.

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And by C-word we’re not referring to “coronavirus” – nor “COVID-19” (though, you can’t escape those either).

The word of the day is crisis. Because you know what – COVID-19 is just one crisis. It’s surely not the first, and it won’t be the last.

So here’s one particularly valuable thing you can learn from this situation: how to stay calm and logical in the face of any crisis – big or small – that impacts your company.

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