Steve Jobs once said that creativity is just connecting things in new ways, and is rarely planned because it just happens. But in a risk-averse economy, many businesses are wary of too much imagination and ingenuity, opting for safer, ‘tried-and-true’ tactics to survive.
The role creativity plays in business and economic development has gained traction in recent years, though, thanks to the debunking of many myths and new studies about creativity in the workplace. IBM’s in-depth 2010 survey of 1500 corporate and public sector leaders revealed that creativity – more than rigour, management discipline or even integrity – was the most valued leadership trait by CEOs. Roughly 60 per cent of respondents said creativity was the most important quality, followed by integrity (52 per cent) and global thinking (35 per cent).
But a more recent study released by the Martin Prosperity Institute, The Global Creativity Index 2015 (GCI), shows that creative employees and leaders are well on their way to becoming the cornerstone for economic success. The GCI, released in December 2015, measures economic growth and prosperity based on a country’s talent, technology and tolerance – the three Ts. Countries with higher scores have higher levels of productivity, competitiveness, entrepreneurship and overall human development.
According to this study, Australia is in its prime when it comes to encouraging this top leadership trait. Aussies finally supplanted the Swedes for the overall number one spot in this year’s rankings. In individual categories, Australia placed first in talent, seventh in technology and fourth in tolerance out of 139 countries.
In a knowledge economy, consumption and production are based on intellectual capital, which means creativity and ingenuity are closely linked to business growth. Australia’s rank is a testament to how organisations have invested, and continue to invest, in research and development to boost innovation in sectors such as software, robotics, manufacturing technology and biotechnology, to name a few.
Additionally, 45 per cent of the Australian workforce is part of what the GCI calls the ‘creative class’, which includes workers in STEM fields, the arts, culture, entertainment, the media, business and management, healthcare, education and law. This, combined with high levels of university (or tertiary education) enrolment, bumped Australia into the top spot for talent in 2015, up from seventh in 2011.
According to the study, a growing body of research indicates that openness and diversity spur economic growth, and places open to new ideas attract the best talent nationally and internationally. The statistics around tolerance are based on how many respondents say their city or town is a good place for ethnic and racial minorities or LGBTQIA individuals. This particular piece of the GCI is subjective, and should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. When it comes to perceived tolerance, Australia ranks fourth; although the country has come far, there is still some way to go towards complete inclusion and diversity.
How to encourage creativity at work?
Despite its first-place ranking in the GCI, Australia still has room for improvement. How can organisations attract, retain and encourage creative individuals at work? A good first step is to address myths about what it means to be ‘creative’, who has it and how to manage it.
One to debunk is the stereotype that analytical people are generally not creative, and vice versa. Related to this is the idea that analytical thought and creative thought are two different things, otherwise known as the ‘left brain versus right brain dichotomy’. This perpetuates the division between creativity and the core principles of good business, which keeps creativity and its related attributes at a distance. Another myth is that creativity only comes in bursts – those “Ah ha!” moments where genius arrives in a great puff of brilliance. People are reluctant to promote themselves as creative because of the image of the lone figure with a compulsion to create.
We aren’t all tortured artists – many of us don’t need to be taught to be creative, just motivated. To encourage creativity among staff and leaders, business need to respect effort and allow for failure. Actively solicit ideas, encourage collaboration and communication between individuals or departments, tolerate mistakes and reward the creative efforts of team members. Businesses should also act on ideas and solutions generated to keep the creative juices flowing; nothing stymies the flow of ideas like the feeling that the process isn’t worthwhile.
Like is also attracted to like, so if you want more creative employees, think about how your company’s hiring practices can be more inventive. Organisations have done everything from ask applicants to share their wackiest talent, to using non-traditional media for recruitment materials.
With Prime Minister Turnbull’s drive for innovation, it’s never been a better time for businesses to seek out and support creativity. As Einstein supposedly said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” With that in mind, maybe it’s time to let imaginations run wild.