By Michael Tucak, Creative Legal

Article summary:
  • Think of yourself as an artist. Create and manage your workspace and workflow to enable your creativity.
  • Remove distractions. Give your mind a chance to focus. Don’t constantly flick between work tasks, email to-do lists or social media (or your mobile).
  • Allocate thinking time in your calendar. Plan and set goals to be creative.
  • Moderate ‘skimming’. Skimming doesn’t give you in-depth knowledge to build on. Without in-depth knowledge how can you compete sustainably in the market place?
  • Generate hotspots. Hotspots are moments when real value is added to your work tasks. In order to create them, value and grow interpersonal relationships with different people in your business. Invite these people to explore and challenge ideas and assumptions with you.

Learn from artists

Artists often have conducive workspaces to assist their creativity. We can all learn from their example and prime our creative juices by thinking about our workspaces and workflow.

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We all like to think of ourselves as ‘creative’ to some degree, and we all are. Whether we’re artists, innovators, entrepreneurs or worker bees, the importance of creativity in our work can’t be underestimated. It can be the difference between good work and great work or a fresh new direction and the stale old status quo. But how can we be sure we’re primed for those creative ‘light bulbs’ to burst into action? A creativity-conducive workspace is a great place to start, whether it’s the studio, home office or your Level 23 cubicle.

STEP 1: Remove distractions

It sounds basic, but it works. If you find you’re constantly flicking between work tasks, email to-do lists or social media (or your mobile), you’re probably distracting yourself from your work and also stopping the flow of creative thought. Your brain is kept in task mode with little room for ideas. Compare how often you get great ideas when you’re present and undistracted (in the shower, on a jog or in bed before your eyelids close) with estimates of how often workplace distractions occur: anywhere from every 14 to every 3 minutes.

There are many ways to remove distraction and leave room for creative thought. Many large firms adopt ‘thinking days’ where internal email and meetings aren’t used. Tricks, like putting your SMS tone on silent or putting a short term ‘out of office’ on emails (“I’m away from my desk this morning but will respond to your email after 2pm”), can bring you closer to a more focussed and creative mind. Other techniques such as keeping a clean workspace, using simple meditation techniques regularly in your day (think of it like the feet exercises you do on an inter-city flight) or compiling a good to-do list (on paper or on your laptop) can also prime your mind for creative bulbs.

STEP 2: Moderate ‘skimming’

Although skimming a document, article or email can help in digesting information or getting across issues quickly, proper consideration of reading materials for a meeting can help you think more deeply on issues, gain insight or even make lateral connections to other seemingly unrelated issues. Taking in information only at surface level can result in you missing many creative ideas. This, in turn, may be at great cost to your organisation.

STEP 3: Re-design workplaces

Open-plan offices are unfortunately, by their nature, not so conducive to non-distraction. Quiet areas, even those not specifically set aside for work use, can provide useful spaces to let creativity in: ponder longer in the coffee room when deliberating on an issue or book time in the meeting room to work on things where creative insights might be useful. ‘Dampening’ techniques, such as removing yourself from the line of fire of the most frequent workplace distractions – the lift, the photocopier or the new guy – can also work.

STEP 4: Generate ‘hot spots’

London Business School’s Professor Lynda Grattan refers to the moments when staff really ‘value add’ to work tasks as ‘hot spots’. She identifies the importance of positive work relationships, removing obstacles that make them barely functional professional interactions, in order to create hotspots.

Additional ways to encourage hotspots are:

  • Raise doubts or questions in the workplace, and do not view/treat them as weakness or confrontation.
  • Allow time to properly prepare for meetings and discussions.
  • Remove the reliance on impressive slides or hand-outs.
  • Foster good friendships across boundaries.
  • Reduce the common workplace approach of ‘command and control’.
STEP 5: Let others be creative too

Letting those you interact with prime themselves for creativity is also important. Allowing enough time to prepare for meetings or discussions or avoiding your own reliance on flashy presentation slides or detailed hand-outs can let your ideas hit a “hot spot” and become better, as can drawing on (or inviting in) fresh input or insights from outside your usual domain. Whilst creative “hot spots” can’t be forced, you can give them space to happen.

Conclusion

Just thinking about how you can allow more room for creativity is the first step to generating a positive and useful creative flow and gaining deeper insights. As with artists, there’s no reason why all of us can’t prime ourselves better for more creative light-bulbs and how we go about our work is a great place to start.


Sources:

Grattan L, 2008, Hot Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces and Organisations Buzz with Energy – and Others Don’t, Financial Times/Prentice Hall, London.

Fiona Smith, 2009, Slow down and let the ideas roll in, John Fairfax Publications.