Creative thinking can be a company's biggest asset in the business world. Start-ups are a great example of this principle. Look at a given marketplace with established encumbents who have the money, manpower, and infrastructure to corner that market. It can seem impossible for a little business to get off the ground, but every day successful businesses launch and grow. They do it by carving out a unique niche, or by providing customers with new and better services. As a result, bigger companies who lose that outside-the-box thinking lose market share and risk being pushed out of a marketplace they once dominated.
The casual, close-knit office culture of a start-up cultivates spontaneous, inventive thinking and encourages team members to pitch ideas. As companies grow, this culture slowly becomes replaced with corporate policies and red tape. Bigger businesses often lose the ability to generate and flesh out new ideas. As a result, they miss much of the creativity that made them successful in the first place. Business owners and CEOs are waking up and realizing they need to find ways to inspire that same passion and resourcefulness in their employees so they can maintain their competitive edge.
Many companies look to start-ups for inspiration. Although they have fewer people and resources than established businesses, they use those resources more effectively to help employees produce their best work and inspire creative thinking. But what is it about start-ups that make them so conducive to creativity? Experts seem to agree this is due to the mental and physical environment they create for their employees. In order to foster creativity in the workplace, businesses hoping to achieve the same ingenuity and flexibility of a start-up need to redesign both their office culture and their office environment.
Creating the right mental space is the most important thing a company can do to nurture creativity in its employees. Employees need the freedom to pitch ideas, to try new things, and to make mistakes. This starts with both leadership and the corporate culture encouraging exploration. Experts like Donna Flynn, vice president of Steelcase Workspace Futures, encourage leaders to throw out some of the red tape and chain-of-command bureaucracy so employees have more freedom to direct their work and think creatively. "Research in a variety of industries has shown that creativity and successful innovation can only flourish when senior leaders of organizations purposefully design an environment that allows teams to experiment, fail, and explore new approaches," says Flynn.
The best managers put their efforts into hiring the right people to do the job, and then trusting them with the autonomy to get the job done. You can set an innovative tone and encourage a free exchange of ideas in your business by giving team leaders the freedom to take creative control of their projects.
A well-designed office can keep employees' minds sharp, facilitate different work styles, and help stimulate new ideas. Creating a distinct, non-traditional office environment helps employees get outside a headspace filled with rigid ideas of how "office work" is supposed to happen. David Kidder, author of "The Startup Playbook," has been helping businesses change their old ways of working for years. "You can't say to someone, 'I want you to think differently, build differently, behave differently' — and then say, 'Go back to your desk,'" Kidder observes. "As founders and leaders, we need to break people's environments to truly change the way people think and create."
Many small businesses have to make-do with uncomfortable, cobbled-together spaces until they find their feet. Luckily, there are some small but powerful changes that you can make to your space that won't cost a lot of money or require you to renovate. We've talked before on our blog about the mental and health benefits of plants and natural light. Adding plants, as well as making use of windows, sunlight, and earthy materials, is one way to spur your employees' productivity and cognitive functions.
Making sure that your employees feel free to create their own work spaces is another great way to boost their creativity. Allow your employees to work with the tools that make them most comfortable, be it a personal tablet, a whiteboard, or pencil doodles. Working in a comfortable medium frees up their mental process to focus better on the task at hand.
As your business grows, there's more of an opportunity to shape your space to your needs. The idea of assigning workers to individual desks is not necessarily the best setup for your office. In an article titled "Creating Conditions for Creativity," Turnstone states that "The foundation of a company's identity is built on four elements: Passion, Personality, Authenticity, and Agility." Incorporate your business' passion and personality into your office décor, and choose brands and materials that reflect your business' values. Most importantly, make sure your workspace gives employees as much agility and flexibility in the way they work as you want your business to have in the marketplace.
With laptops and mobile devices, many workers prefer to seek out work areas where they can concentrate or collaborate better, depending on the task they're working on. Creating communal workspaces designed to accommodate certain tasks are the best way to get your employees' ideas flowing.
Tasks that require collaboration, for example, thrive in a casual environment, with lots of energy and background conversations. The high energy and chatter make people feel more at ease discussing ideas and making suggestions. On the other hand, tasks that require concentration thrive in quiet environments. A communal quiet area, separate from the rest of the office, can provide your workers with a place to mull over their thoughts and get work done without disturbance.