Written in July 2014 for Aureus Consulting:
According to psychologist Sam Glucksberg, incentivizing employees to be more creative actually does the complete opposite. Offering rewards for creativity narrows the focus of an employee, which restricts his/her ability to conceive of possibilities and dulls the mind to creative thinking. This is a fact that has been proven in economic and psychological studies over and over again.
So then how to promote creativity in the workplace? Creativity can’t be induced with rewards and certainly can’t be forced; but it can be welcomed. Here are five ways to create a work environment more conducive to creativity:
1) Have a place to jot down your ideas.
Whether it’s a group inspiration board for the office or just a person’s notebook on their desk, designating a space for ideas is like preparing a guest room for a good but unpredictable friend. You might not know when this friend will show up, but you want to make sure you can squeeze them in whenever they do. A group idea board also encourages people to brainstorm together in a more relaxed setting than a formal meeting.
2) Be easygoing and positive.
People are more likely to share ideas if they feel comfortable. Psychological studies have revealed that creativity is more likely to visit us when we’re in a positive mood, because a relaxed attitude grants us greater flexibility in thinking and a widened perspective. So if you’re struggling with a problem that demands innovation, try watching a funny video or listening to upbeat music to pep yourself up.
3) Be open to diversity.
A uniform and agreeable group of employees may make for a pleasant work atmosphere, but when it comes to creativity, the less homogeneity the better. Encountering new ways of approaching even simple tasks can create more room for ideas to flourish.
4) Take a break.
This may seem counterintuitive but the best ideas can come to you when you’re not looking for them. That means giving your brain a break, using your annual leave, or even just relaxing for a few minutes. Creativity can be hard to summon sometimes, but it’s nearly impossible to summon when you’re stressed or overworked.
5) Leave room for autonomy.
Since rewards don’t encourage people to be their most creative selves, what does? Room for autonomy. Google famously implemented a system where employees were allowed to spend 20% of their time working on a Google-related passion project of their own choosing or of their own creation. This policy led to products like Google News, Google’s autocomplete system, and even Gmail. When an employee feels she has autonomy and purpose, creativity naturally infuses itself into her work.