Creativity comes to the rescue

Covid-19 has disrupted everything –  so how do we deal with the horror show in front of us? Creativity is obviously the answer to life, work and the universe, says Mark Simmonds

Covid-19 has disrupted everything. Businesses and business models have been turned upside down during the past 12 months. High street retailing will never be the same again. The hospitality industry is on its knees, where it will remain for the foreseeable future. Airlines have been crippled, small businesses butchered and budding entrepreneurs nipped in the bud at birth. The online sector, unsurprisingly, has gone from strength to strength, food retailing has benefitted from Lockdown.

So how do we deal with the horror show in front of us?

If ever there was a time for creativity to step up to the plate in the corporate arena and come to the rescue, it’s now. Unfortunately, there’s a problem.

In 2020, GENIUS YOU carried out a study involving over 2000 respondents from 17 multi-nationals across 10 sectors. The study analysed information extracted from a psychometric survey completed by respondents in the period 2015-2020 which explored the creative strengths of individuals. Were they at the more generative end of the creative process, characterised by the Explorer and the Detective, or were they at the evaluative, decision-making end of the creative spectrum, characterised by the Judge? The results were conclusive.

Just under a third (31%) of respondents scored highest as the logical, analytical Judge character – making this the dominant behaviour. This compared with 21% for the explorer, the generator of ideas, and only 9% for the detective, the spotter of ideas with potential. The pattern of results was consistent across the vast majority of companies surveyed.

So, why is the more judgmental, analytical mindset dominating the more expansive and exploratory one? Is it a product of our education system? Are we knocking that child-like curiosity and ‘can do’ attitude out of people in their formative years? Or maybe ‘judges’ are what companies are looking for when they recruit individuals? Do employers view commercial rigour as a more important competency than creative flair? Alternatively, are the realities and pressures of day-to-day work just not conducive to the more exploratory, experimental front end of the creative process. Is there simply not the time available for Explorers and Detectives to weave their magic in the workplace?

The three killers of creativity

In the same study, the participants were also asked one open-ended question: “Do you have any suggestions for how your organisation can improve creativity at work?” The findings made for some interesting reading. Here are the culprits.

1Time poverty. Just over 10% of all responses to the question complained that there was insufficient time available in the workplace to allow the creative juices to flow. One verbatim quote: “Our biggest downfall within the business is not giving enough time to creative thinking. We need to put importance on thinking as much as doing. The team are constantly executing projects but spend little time crafting new creative ideas”.

2Process overload. Twelve percent of all responses indicated that many organisations are swamped by a myriad of processes and procedures, structures and systems that simply serve to clog up the working day. Companies are also extinguishing the creative spark by installing an overabundance of committees, checks and reviews at different stages of the creative process.

3A lack of brainstorm workshops. 18% of responses pointed towards a dearth of brainstorming time. Employees remain chained to their computers, unable to leave them for a couple of hours or days in order to share and build ideas with colleagues. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that point 1 plus point 2 probably add up to point 3.

Creativity boosts your mental health

But the problem gets worse. Not only are companies seemingly doing their best to banish the creative spirit, but those same killers of creativity are also partially responsible for damaging our mental well-being. A lack of time, too many bureaucratic processes and not enough human interaction are stressors in the workplace. It’s a double whammy. And to complete the irony, it has been scientifically proven that a daily dose of creativity is actually good for you! It acts as a natural anti-depressant with nothing but positive side-effects! There are a couple of factors that contribute to the therapeutic effect that creativity can have on mental well-being.

1Meditation Plus: When you are creative, your brain enters a state of flow and becomes totally absorbed by what you are doing. It’s like meditation or mindfulness, but better, because you have something tangible to show for it! Your brain temporarily de-clutters itself of the daily nitty gritty and focuses on the fresh and new.

2Dopamine feel good factor: The reward centres in our brain release dopamine; it’s this chemical surge that boosts your mood. Dopamine, sometimes referred to as the feel-good chemical, is a neurotransmitter which acts as a natural antidepressant. When we engage in creative pursuits and the neurons in our brain start firing, we receive positive re-enforcement. So not only does being creative feel good at the time, but our brains are also essentially telling us to keep going. More of the same please.

So what’s the solution? What can we do to create more time and space for creativity and reduce stress levels at the same time? After all, isn’t Covid-19 giving us the burning platform we need? Has there ever been a time in our working lives when it has been more important to find creative solutions to the constraints and challenges placed in front of us? And has the mental health of the nation ever been under more pressure than it is today. The answer to the last two questions is a resounding ‘NO!’

I believe that businesses should focus on the following things:

AProcess pruning. Take a good, hard look at all the processes in place and work out which ones really add value to the business. If they don’t add sufficient value to merit a place at the corporate table, then prune back hard. It’s unlikely that anybody is going to complain about not having to fill in a template or two.

BSpace to breathe. The net effect of a hard process prune is that all of a sudden, the clutter will begin to clear away, and companies will start to enjoy a strong sense of catharsis. It will be that same feeling gardeners get when, as part of the autumn sweep, all the weeds are dug up, the lawn is given its final trim, and all the dead leaves are disposed of. The garden is given the equivalent of a short, back and sides and you are gifted with the space to create when spring returns.

CZoom control. Stress and pressure are not conducive with creativity. If employees are now working from home, it is counter-productive to fill up the day with back to back Zoom or Microsoft Teams calls. If 2 hours commuting time a day have been saved by the mandate of Lockdown, avoid the temptation of filling this time with more day to day nitty gritty. Give this time back to employees and ask them to get creative.

DCreative oases. Have employees got places and spaces in the home that can serve as ‘creative oases’? A home office or a corner of a room full of colour, photos and quirky little objects? A ‘Costa Kitchen’ where they can meet up daily with housemates or family to banter and brainstorm. A bathroom infused with gentle music and lavender smells to reward body and mind!

ECreative twists and turns. What are you doing to encourage creativity at the very tactical level? Does every Zoom call have to follow the same format? Why not set the team a creative challenge for the week, something useful for the company, but also playful at the same time? How about sending the team a great example of creativity demonstrated during Covid-times every day at 4pm and ask for comments? Little boosts of dopamine every day will help keep the stress away!

FReady for the return. What plans do employers have in place for the return to normality once Covid has left our shores? Three days at the office, two days working from home? A more creativity-friendly working environment? Employers have a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-think the workplace and work routines. We mustn’t waste it.

So, in a nutshell, organisations need to do a couple of things. First of all, understand the importance of creativity in the current Covid climate. It is no longer a luxury. Secondly, identify the culprits responsible for dampening the creative spirit in the workplace and address these head-on. And thirdly, appreciate the fact that a dose of creativity is good for your mental health.

Creativity is obviously the answer to life, work and the universe. Allow it to flourish and reap the rewards.

Mark Simmonds is a creativity, insight and innovation expert and the founder of GENIUS YOU – a company which helps teams develop winning ideas by strengthening creative muscles

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