*The following is an excerpt from Michael Kerr’s book, “Inspiring Workplaces – Creating the Kind of Workplace Where Everyone Wants to Work”
Inspiring workplaces are arenas for ideas, where creativity is a valued commodity that is hired for, nourished and rewarded. Inspiration comes easily, and often. Rules are broken in the pursuit of innovation. Ideas are the currency of change, of improvement, of innovation, of competitiveness, of the future.
Create a Creative Work Space
In surveys, the last place that people suggest that they come up with good ideas is the very place where people are asked to be most creative: at work!
Now consider where people report getting most of their great ideas:
Driving Walking In the park Taking a shower
Golfing Relaxing in bed On a hike Riding a bike
So what’s going on here? Why do so many people come up with ideas while undertaking these activities?
Certainly a change of scenery can be all that is needed to offer a different perspective on a problem. The other common factor is relaxation: allowing the brain to both consciously and subconsciously meander and wander and drift and play and imagine. There is freedom in these activities. Pleasure. A sense of timelessness.
Inspiring workplaces understand that if we want our employees to be inspired enough to imagine ideas (and lots of them), then we need to foster the kind of workplace environment, both in terms of the physical and cultural environment, that allows for freedom, a sense of playfulness and imagination.
Knowing that most people come up with their best ideas away from the office leaves two possible options:
Take your team outside for a walk in the woods when you need a little inspiration. Or to a museum, park or the zoo. Anywhere that gets people away from their day-to-day worries, and out into a relaxed environment and into a head space that lets the imagination breathe.
Or, create a physical work environment that emulates the characteristics of these environments and activities where people report being more creative. A large part of this certainly has to do with the head space, and so fostering a creative culture is likely even more important than the physical environment, however, creating an innovative, relaxed and even playful physical environment can go along ways towards getting the creative juices flowing.
Allowing people to personalize their work spaces, adding bright colors, playful office toys and humorous props, lots of natural lighting, plants and open spaces can help to create an environment that encourages a relaxed, human and creative ambiance.
A lot of organizations have also taken to setting up a creativity meeting room, specifically designed to help people relax, be playful and creative. These rooms might include toys, the opportunity for music, fun signs and posters and a creativity library.
Creativity is Used as a Powerful Motivator
If you want to motivate your employees to perform better, give them more creative freedom over their day to day work lives and give them permission to be creative.
People want to share their ideas, so much so, that allowing people the opportunity to be creative and allowing people to share their ideas in a meaningful way is thought to be one of the most powerful workplace motivators; while stifling employee’s creativity is one of the fastest ways of de-motivating a workforce.
Part of this is connected to allowing people to share ideas about the organization at large, but it’s also simply about letting people have some control and say over their own destinies and jobs. It’s about giving employees permission to use their creative thinking skills to solve day to day simple problems or to deal with a customer complaint.
And perhaps, above all else, inspiring workplaces know that people want their ideas to be at least considered, taken seriously and responded to, even if they aren’t always implemented.
Everyone Has Ideas
Inspiring workplaces know that a good idea can come from anywhere in the organization, or for that matter, from outside the organization, and they create opportunities for everyone to find solutions to challenges and bring forward their ideas.
Ideas are Allowed to Breathe
One of the most common creativity killers in a workplace is preventing ideas from being brought forward, played with, tested or tried on for size. Shooting down someone’s idea by laughing at, ridiculing it, dismissing it out of hand or by simply prejudging its merits or creating excuses out of hand as to why something will never work.
Idea-squashing language, including non-verbal signals (head shaking, rolling eyes, crossed arms) and language such as “we’ve tried that before” is a fast and effective way to demoralize employees and smother any and all creative potential. Inspiring workplaces remove all risk associated with bringing forward any new ideas because employees know that they can do so without fear of reprisal or judgment.
Instead, seeds of ideas need to be treated as such—seeds of potential, which require space, time to grow, encouragement and perhaps a little pruning to nip of the ugly parts.
Inspiring workplaces don’t shoot down ideas before they’ve been careful consideration.
They nourish ideas, and employees use idea-supporting language rather than idea-squashing language. Inspiring workplaces realize that often the only real way to know if an idea has merit, is to try it on for size and see if it fits.
Inspiring workplaces understand that, by definition, a truly creative idea has never been done before. Not by you, and not by your competition. There are no roadmaps, guide books or how to manuals to help you out. Trying out a novel idea means heading into uncharted territories, which means mistakes, will happen.
Inspiring workplaces have a healthy definition of mistakes. They view smart mistakes in the name of creativity as research, as learning opportunities, as wrong turns down a complex maze. People are never punished for smart mistakes, to the contrary, in an inspiring workplace people are so strongly encouraged to try new things, that mistakes are considered part of the creative process of moving forward. For as the old saying goes, if you aren’t making any mistakes, chances are you aren’t trying anything new.
There’s No Reward Without Risk
There is always an element of risk when a new idea is moved through an organization. Inspiring workplaces accept this as a reality, and of course, strive to minimize the risk of bringing forward new ideas whenever possible, by minimizing the potential consequences of a risk, or by minimizing the probability that something will go wrong, or both.
It Boils Down to Permission
Inspiring workplaces give people permission to be creative, and that, when all is said and done, is the real key to unlocking people’s creative potential. People need to know that it is more than just okay to look for new ideas, it is necessary. Creating a positive, supportive culture where communication flows freely and where people are free to be themselves and given latitude to grow, make mistakes and try new things on for size, is the most critical element in fostering a creative work environment.
Copyright 2013. Michael Kerr is Hall of Fame business speaker, very funny motivational speaker and trainer who specializes in helping organizations build more dynamic, inspiring, innovative and fun workplace cultures – the kind of cultures that drive phenomenal success. He is the author of Putting Humor to Work and Inspiring Workplaces – Creating the Kind of Workplace Where Everyone Wants to Work. www.MikeKerr.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
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