Fostering a Culture of Creativity in the Workplace

While there's no recipe for creating the ideal innovative environment, we can all take proactive steps to ensure that ideas are welcome, personal risk-taking is encouraged, and creativity is valued in our employees and throughout the workplace.
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Did you know that some of our most creative thinking is done during idle time? Research shows that our minds need downtime to spark imagination innovation. There's even a term for that moment our brains turn inward to spark creative insight -- it's called a "brain blink." But how can our brains find the time to blink, let alone rest, when we're ruled by the tyranny of our ever-expanding to-do list?

I think a good approach to creating a value-driven workplace and making you and your organization more "value focused" is by fostering a culture of creativity. Simply adding a Ping-Pong table to your break room isn't enough to inspire innovation. Workplace perks like nap rooms, coffee bars, and on-site massage might be nice-to-haves, but they aren't the only path to creating a workplace culture that encourages the kind of personal and strategic risk-taking that creativity requires.

At State Street, we do our best to create a culture where creativity is encouraged so that employees feel their ideas are valued, their minds are engaged and their thoughts are respected. Here are five ways to approach this.

1. Encourage Individualism AND Teamwork.
It may be true that there is no "I" in "team," but there is an "M" and an "E." Don't make your employees check their individuality at the office door. Every team is made up of individuals with varying ideas and different approaches to problem solving. I have always encouraged bringing your whole self to work and no one has expressed this better than my brave colleague Morgana Bailey in her TED@State Street talk, "The Danger of Hiding Who You Are." In her TEDTalk, which has been viewed more than 1.8 million times, Morgana shares that once you start hiding parts of who you are, it becomes harder and harder to speak out about your true self. When Morgana finally was able to speak the truth, she lifted the veil of isolation and the fear of acceptance that she had lived with for so many years both in and out of the workplace. Bringing your whole self to work can inspire creativity and non-conformity and, as Morgana realized, it has the potential to help shape social policy in the world at large.

2. Don't underestimate the power of a whiteboard.
The pithy new source for news, The Skimm, recently Tweeted a photo of their new whiteboard wall in their office. Their Tweet, "No furniture? No problem. Because we have a... whiteboard wall," demonstrates the unlimited potential of white space. Couple that whiteboard with workspace filled with inspired coworkers and you've set the stage for the next great idea.

3. "Yes, and..." - A lesson from Improvisational Theater
Recently, two behind-the-scenes giants from The Second City in Chicago have shared their insights on how the power of improvisation can be used to develop and foster innovation -- even in business. Their book, Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration, illustrates the transformative power of the first rule of improvisation -- using additive feedback ("Yes, and..."), rather than negative feedback ("No" or "No, But..."). Improvisation is about the power and energy that's unleashed by building on the ideas of others -- just like every amazing business ought to be. No wonder business schools, such as MIT's Sloan School have added improv classes to their curriculum.

4. Go out and play.
Yes, it's still important as an adult to let loose and play. While you may roll your eyes at the office karaoke night or laser tag outing, these activities are important for getting to know your co-workers and seeing them as humans -- and maybe even friends. Leisure time also activates what's called the "default mode network" in your brain that signals your mind to look at problems in a new way. In short, it can activate that "brain blink" for you. The novelty of trying something new can reshape your approach to a problem and help you come at things in a new way.

5. Diversify your team.
Diverse groups yield better solutions and a variety of perspectives, insights and learning styles to accelerate problem-solving. There's also a term for this -- the Medici Effect, which posits that a diverse team has a better chance of generating groundbreaking ideas thanks to the varying ways it approaches a problem. We want the best ideas, not the thinking of just a certain group, so that everyone is equipped to generate ideas and innovations that are fundamental to our success.

While there's no recipe for creating the ideal innovative environment, we can all take proactive steps to ensure that ideas are welcome, personal risk-taking is encouraged, and creativity is valued in our employees and throughout the workplace.