Colleagues working on project

Making your organisation more creative for good

Embracing creativity and innovation for long-term success

6 minute read
Colleagues working on project

In our rapidly changing world, a workplace where creativity and innovation are encouraged has an undeniable advantage.

However, developing this type of organisational culture is far from easy – to be truly successful, any changes you implement need to have a long-term impact in the right direction.

Ensuring your workplace becomes more creative and stays creative permanently requires careful planning and workplace design.

The importance of creativity

Strategy and transformation consultancy Tank Managing Director Jim Antonopoulos said creative organisations were well documented to be great innovators as well – something which was essential to the lasting health of any business or organisation.

“Creativity is the act of seeing and listening to problems in new ways, and developing new, disruptive and novel ideas to solve these problems, while innovation is the act of bringing those ideas to life to create impact, change and improvement,” he said.

“Those organisations which understand the differences between the two, and have in place a creative culture encouraging new and disruptive ideas, can then put in place frameworks for innovation much more easily.

“It is important to embrace both creativity and innovation to stay relevant and embrace the pace of change in our societies, as well as to continually be able to meet the needs of the communities, people, families and stakeholders the organisation serves.

“Without the ability to see and listen for the problems needing to be solved, organisations run the danger of becoming redundant very quickly – or far more frightening is them becoming redundant so slowly, they don’t see it.”

A workplace that fosters creativity does not only benefit the organisation itself.

Deloitte Organisation Transformation Narrative and Experience Consultant Charlie Darlington noted that encouraging creativity meant encouraging employees – it helps both the individual and the whole.

“Creative freedom is important at work because it fosters a sense of ownership and autonomy, leading to higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction,” he said.

“When employees feel empowered to express their creativity and contribute their ideas, they are more likely to feel valued and fulfilled in their roles.

“This can only mean a stronger team and higher-quality work.”

Who needs to be creative?

Mr Antonopoulos said many organisations misunderstood and misused creativity, thinking it was only important in some roles and not others, which could stifle the development of the much-needed skill.

“The organisation that misunderstands creativity places it in a box where the act, mindset and discipline of creativity belongs to a select few people – mainly those in marketing, design and communications,” he said.

“You’ll see senior leaders say things like ‘I’m not creative’ or ‘I’ll leave the rest to the creative folks’.

“These kinds of organisations also misuse creativity by expecting it to be about making things look pretty and little else.

“This compartmentalisation of creativity is not only ill-defined and incorrectly placed, it inhibits creativity wherever it exists by limiting the diversity of thinking, diverse representation and insight from people across the organisation.”

In Mr Antonopoulos’ experience, creativity comes from all places and can be beneficial to anybody in any role – it should not be a skill held only by a select few people, and if you want to develop your workplace’s abilities, it is crucial to understand this.

Mr Darlington agreed that confining creativity to certain sections of the workplace or a project could be counterproductive while integrating it at all stages better allowed the organisation to thrive.

“We know storytelling through media and design is essential for conveying complex ideas effectively,” he said.

“However, it’s not enough to engage a designer or a copywriter to dress up a project once it’s all wrapped up.

“Creative work isn’t just a shiny add-on – it’s integral to overcoming challenges, driving progress and staying competitive in today’s dynamic business landscape.

“In my team, we prioritise creativity by integrating it into our strategic planning process.

“This ensures the look, feel and narrative of our projects are carefully considered from the outset, enhancing their effectiveness and resonance.

“By embracing creativity in all tasks and initiatives, we unlock new perspectives and possibilities, which can lead to transformative outcomes.”

A creative shift

Shifting to a more creative mindset, however, is not a simple task by any means – to truly feel the benefits of innovation, the effects must pervade the workplace and be long-lasting, rather than a temporary change.

University of Leeds Business School Professor Lynda Song said if you wanted to encourage creativity, you needed more than just praise.

“Mere verbal encouragement without concrete systems, such as internal funding schemes, will not have a lasting impact,” she said.

“Without a connection to employees’ career development, the effects will also be short-lived.

“For instance, in our business school, to enhance enthusiasm for research on impact cases, a dedicated manager has been appointed to provide support.

“Regular seminars and coaching sessions are conducted, along with one-on-one coffee sessions for consultations.

“Additionally, special funds are allocated to assist teachers in organising workshops, establishing connections with various stakeholders and facilitating the incubation of impact cases.”

As with many areas of organisational change, Professor Song said it was up to workplace leaders and managers to lead the way to develop a strategy and implement changes when needed.

“Firstly, leaders themselves need to possess an awareness of innovation and foster an innovative culture,” she said.

“Secondly, leaders should guide innovation based on strategic considerations. For instance, proactive innovation may be required at times while defensive innovation may be necessary to prevent potential losses.

“Thirdly, leaders need to chart their own path of innovation, identify industry benchmarks, recognise the strengths and weaknesses of their organisation and encourage a dynamic development by learning from others and addressing shortcomings.

“Lastly, leaders should engage deeply within the organisation, communicating extensively with employees, identifying existing challenges and encouraging everyone to contribute to solutions.”

Mr Darlington agreed that capable leadership was an essential part of the journey to creating a sustained change for the better – leaders also need to be able to trust and work with their employees on a personal level.

“When your boss trusts your capabilities and makes you feel comfortable to experiment or to go out and learn, and then apply what you’ve learnt, you’re in the perfect position to be creative at work,” he said.

“Organisations should avoid micromanagement, embrace intuitive leaders and trust their employees.

“Everyone comes to work with a different background, a different story and a different set of experiences.

“Instead of overprescribing and controlling the way we complete work and reach our goals, we can allow space for this diversity in experience to speak – often, there’s something new for the rest of the team to learn.”

Mr Darlington said leaders and managers could better foster creativity by altering their hiring practices.

“They can look at the people who make up their team and ask whether they have diverse work history, life experiences and skill sets,” he said.

“When hiring, don’t get stuck looking for candidates with a vision for an overly specific work history.

“When you hire someone from a different industry and support their transition to a new career path, they’ll bring fresh perspectives, diverse skills and innovative ideas to the team.

“This cultivates a culture of creativity, promotes cross-pollination of ideas and enhances problem-solving capabilities by introducing new approaches and insights from other fields.”

In addition, instead of thinking of creativity in simple terms, Mr Antonopoulos said it was essential to think of creativity more broadly if you wanted to make a permanent change for the better.

“Organisations which believe creativity is a set of processes, tools or inherent traits within select individuals will never make creativity and innovation stick,” he said.

“Creativity is a mindset, a way of thinking and – as the great Rick Rubin says – ‘a way of being’.

“To ensure creativity and innovation endure, the organisation must ensure it has an open mind to embrace all creativity and innovation entails – a learning and development culture through failure and experimentation, an open mind from board of directors through to frontline employees to embrace new ideas, to listen and to learn from the others, as well as a culture that supports, develops and nurtures creativity to ensure it aligns with strategic intent and outcomes.

“This impacts the entire organisation, including the leadership mindset and board’s risk appetite, as well as the confidence and psychological safety of all employees, partners and stakeholders.

“Organisations which have this thrive.”