Some people just don’t see themselves as creative. Indeed, whole departments and sometimes industries think they are creative. Ask any accountant. For them, creativity is a bad word. But creativity is not only for painters and writers. It is not magic. Creativity is just what you do when resources are limited and the desired outcome unclear. This means creativity is essential in nearly any workplace. 

And since it isn’t magic, that means you can build creativity in your teams and your workplaces, and foster an environment in which it grows. 

So here are ten things you can say more to help create an environment of creativity in your workplace. Say them and mean them, and see what difference they make:

“I don’t know” – From an early age, we are taught not to say these three words. It means we haven’t done our homework or finished the reading. Or maybe that we are just not smart enough. But if we hope to innovate, we should be in an environment where we don’t know. That’s the whole point. Acknowledging this gap means you can seek to fill it, whether by research or experimentation. “I don’t know” is a beginning, not an ending. 

“What don’t we know?” – There are always gaps in your knowledge. Sometimes you come up against them naturally, but sometimes you need to seek them out. What are the areas of your project which are unclear, incomplete, or outside of your expertise? How can you address that?

“Who could help?” – Whatever you are working on, the chances that it is completely novel are pretty rare. So find someone who solved a similar problem, or a parallel one and see what they did. Ideally, someone who thinks totally differently to you, and see what they can bring. 

“Let’s try it out” – You never know what you have until you try it. That’s why chefs taste dishes at every stage. It is easy in risk-averse environments to conduct endless research before trying something out, but in the end, there is no substitute for just doing something. The worst that can happen is that you discover you were right. 

“Let’s build this idea before we evaluate it” – All ideas come into the world incomplete and needing support. Or, to look at it another way: no idea is brilliant straight away. So take the time to build things before you decide if they work or not. After all, you wouldn’t challenge a baby to an arm wrestle. 

“Let’s split into groups and work on different ideas” Large discussions favour certain personalities and communication styles, but not others. They can lead to bystander apathy, status inflection and groupthink. So try something else. 

“What other ideas do we have?” It is much easier to choose the useful idea from a list of ten than force your first idea to work. Besides, what are the chances that the first idea you had is your best one?

“What are the reasons not to do this” – Ideation is not all sunshine and rainbows, and there can be creativity in finding problems as well. After all, not all ideas work and, while we want to maintain an openhearted culture, we don’t want to waste resources on something that was never going to work. 

“Let’s start again” – Discarding what you have is sometimes the most efficient thing to do. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath, acknowledge that something is not going to work and go right back to the beginning. 

Creativity is an inefficient and frustrating process. It takes time, resources and frustration. It can be annoying, disappointing and even if we try to avoid that, we may stifle what creativity is there. But if we embrace it in all its complexity, it can open us up to all kinds of possibilities. 


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