Creativity in the Workplace, Part 2: How to Teach Creativity

Painter's pallette and paintbrush

The benefits of creativity are clear: Companies regarded as creative lead competitors and peers in key metrics, like revenue growth and market share. And, according to LinkedIn Learning’s “2019 Workplace Learning Report,” executives see the value.

Part 1 of this creativity in the workplace series explored why creativity is a top soft skill that managers seek in applicants and creativity’s benefit to your bottom line. Managers and executives eager to enjoy the potential boon can use these strategies to foster innovation and ensure that workers stretch their creativity.

Brainstorm often

Brainstorming is a classic method of stimulating creativity in the workplace and elsewhere. Some managers hold brainstorming sessions that are only loosely organized around work tasks. Asking employees to suggest multiple uses for an item, for example, can spark creative thinking even if the item is not a product the company develops.

Brainstorming doesn’t have to involve a group of people calling out ideas. Try different approaches to brainstorming, such as:

  • Asking why: Toyota’s “5 Whys” process entails stating a problem, asking why and listing answers. Each answer prompts the next “why,” leading the brainstormer to dig more deeply into problems and reach innovative solutions.
  • Mind mapping: Start with a central concept, idea or problem, and list related ideas and words around it. Group related ideas, or create a branch for each participant in the brainstorming session.

Asking participants to brainstorm on their own before a group exchange of ideas can jump-start the process. Supercharge brainstorming sessions by ensuring that workers’ ideas are heard, taken seriously and, when appropriate, implemented. Before dismissing ideas, think about and discuss them.

Cultivate diversity

Diversified thinking—coming up with new ways to do things—is the heart of creativity. Encountering employees of different genders and with varied life experiences and racial and ethnic identities is likely to expose workers to a broad range of skill sets and values. Teams that include a variety of viewpoints will come up with different solutions than teams whose reference points and experiences are similar. They’ll also have broader networks of peers and mentors to draw on for inspiration.

Pooling team members’ best ideas and experiences enables diverse organizations to outperform their more homogeneous peers. Diversity training is a useful step toward both promoting an inclusive work culture and underscoring the value of divergent thinking.

Practice makes perfect

Encourage employees to learn skills that support creative thinking. They might:

  • Study a creativity model, like design thinking, that flexes creative skills. This approach emphasizes imagining your customer or user’s situation and ideating, or coming up with multiple solutions to a problem.
  • Take training in soft skills, like communication or critical thinking. Sharpening these skills supports collaboration and brainstorming. It also boosts learners’ ability to find new ways to approach problems and adapt to change—essential elements of creativity.
  • Seek inspiration from creative geniuses. Studying innovators and artists, whether in your industry, in other fields or in the arts and sciences, models creative thought processes and sparks new ways of thinking.

Don’t neglect the role of the learning management system in providing and supporting training, from offering a collaboration platform to providing browsable libraries of content that employees can explore independently. Include materials related to ideas and concepts discussed in meetings, including sources of creative inspiration like artists and great thinkers.

Reward innovation

Rewarding innovation will breed more of it. It sounds simple, but many organizations acknowledge only successful innovation. Creating a culture where creative ideas are rewarded, even if they don’t result in a new product or process, will send a clear signal to employees. They’ll feel safer suggesting ideas if they know that the creative process is valued even when the idea itself doesn’t pan out.

Managers who make a point of recognizing and praising creativity in the workplace will see their employees thrive. Loyal employees who are pouring their creative energies into bettering their own performance will naturally improve the company’s products, services and culture in the process.