Every business wants to keep up with its industry's latest trends and stay ahead of its competitors. Creative thinking — that is, dreaming up new and unique ways of doing things — is obviously a part of that process. But just how much does your business's creativity quotient matter?
A study by Adobe and Forrester Consulting found that 82 percent of companies believe there is a strong connection between creativity and business results. In fact, companies that actively foster creative thinking outperform their rivals in revenue growth, market share and competitive leadership, according to the report.
Business News Daily spoke with business leaders about the role of creativity in company performance and how to best foster a creative work environment.
Creativity is essential in fields like marketing and design, but a little bit of unconventional thinking can go a long way in just about every aspect of business. Creativity is often a key differentiator in the success of a company's individual departments and internal strategies, said Mike Mansbach, president of BlueJeans Network, a videoconferencing service.
"Not only does creative thinking produce ... winning sales and marketing campaigns that increase brand appeal to the end user, but [it] can also help foster a unique company culture that ultimately reflects and encourages creativity within each department," Mansbach told Business News Daily.
Yoni Ben-Yehuda, chief marketing officer of Web design agency Blue Fountain Media, agreed, and advised taking a collaborative, cross-departmental approach when encouraging creativity in your organization.
"If [you] have the opportunity to foster some creativity into the work that you do, it should be encouraged from all ends of the organization," Ben-Yehuda said. "Being creative in both the approach you take as well as the execution of those plans becomes paramount as you try to grow your brand and accomplish the objectives your organization sets." [See Related Story: Why Creativity Matters Most for Entrepreneurs]
Building a culture of creative thinking
Of course, you can't just say, "Be creative," and expect your staff to magically produce innovative ideas. An innovation-driven work environment must be carefully nurtured and encouraged, and it starts with your company's leadership.
Ben-Yehuda noted that managers should promote a safe, nonjudgmental atmosphere where new approaches are respected and failure is not a punishable offense. He also said that outside opinions from other departments should be welcomed and taken seriously.
"Sometimes, one of the best ways to inspire creative ideas is to consult with other employees outside of the immediate project team," Ben-Yehuda said. "Often, the best ideas come from those who aren't directly working with a certain client or project regularly, so taking the time to ask for opinions from employees that may not be working on a specific project can be quite impactful in creating a final outcome that is far from mundane."
Regular brainstorming sessions with diverse groups of employees can also instill a sense of appreciation for unconventional thinking, Mansbach said.
He noted that BlueJeans encourages a creative environment by using video technology for brainstorm sessions. "This allows businesses to easily connect people from different geographic locations, experience levels and specialties around the country to offer unique perspectives to problems," Mansbach said. "Ultimately, this enhances creativity, as the more diverse a group's knowledge and beliefs are, the more diverse ideas and creative solutions will arise."
Understanding your team's creative needs
The final step of cultivating creativity is to take the time to understand the individual creative needs of your team members. Just as employees have their own personalities and work styles, they are inspired in different ways, and by different things.
Hacking Creativity, a recent ongoing study by Red Bull's High Performance Group and Vibrant Data, uncovered some data about what drives creative thought and success in the workplace. Based on the study, here are a few things your organization can do to promote creativity among diverse employees:
Offer private work spaces. Despite the recent trend toward open office floorplans, 60 percent of respondents said they are most creative in private environments. That doesn't necessarily equate to solitary work, though: 30 percent of this group also said they were highly collaborative in these private spaces.
Give your team some time outdoors. Whether it's getting the freedom to work from a local park or stepping away from their desk for a walk, employees are more creative when they're allowed to connect with nature. Sixty-four percent of respondents said spending time outside is important to their creative process.
Set parameters. The cliché of "thinking outside the box" may not always yield the best results. More than half of survey respondents said they were more creative when they were forced to work within the bounds of existing rules.
Allow for adaptability. You might think that a concrete plan is the only way to achieve your business goals, but some of the most creative individuals go into a project without crafting a clear strategy. The majority of respondents indicated that they are open to chance opportunities that may change their direction and that, when faced with an obstacle, they are quick to reframe their approach.
Ultimately, no matter what methods you use to inspire creativity, it's best to encourage your company to dream big, Mansbach said.
"Whether it's brainstorming the next marketing campaign or planning internal events to boost morale, it's always best to reach for the stars and scale down as needed," he said. "Small aspects of a big plan are often better results than the whole of a small plan. When you start small and build big, you limit the bounds of creativity that may be feasible. So dream big, and then execute the aspects that will deliver the largest impact."