Understandably, companies survive by prioritising bottom lines, managing employee productivity, and systematically going through tasks to optimise and ensure profit. However, companies thrive through innovation and creativity. Unfortunately, the kind of box-ticking that ensures company survival oftens inhibits the creativity that allows companies to truly excel.
Creativity vs Productivity: Why Is Creative Thinking So Important?
In 2017, Mark Cuban declared that creative thinking will become the most sought-after skill within 10 years– and many researchers agree that Cuban is onto something. According to research by Peter Roberts, if two companies have equal profit in year 1, by year 5, the innovative company will have raced ahead and possess 75-80% more profit than its non-innovative competitor. Creative thinking is vital to ensure innovation, and propelling companies ahead of their competitors.
Additionally, with the AI revolution looming and more tedious tasks being automated by algorithms, an increased proportion of our daily tasks will involve creative thinking. When our tedious to-dos are taken over by sophisticated tech, employees and companies who think outside of the box will have an even stronger competitive advantage.
Why Can Productivity Be Harmful to Creativity?
Anyone who’s tried to switch immediately analytical reporting and writing a killer sales pitch can tell you why productivity and creativity make uneasy bedfellows. Simply put: they engage different parts of the brain, and switching between them is not an instantaneous process. Convergent (analytical or administrative) thinking and divergent (creative) thinking are two sides of same coin- but switching between the two can be difficult.
Not to mention, creativity seems antithetical to common business approaches: get everything done, to a high level of quality, in the shortest time possible. Creativity is hard to quantify- often, it requires hours of unstructured thinking or research, with no guaranteed outcome- thus it often gets left to the wayside. But in order to truly be successful, businesses need to stop thinking as creativity as something they’ll get around to if they have time, and start thinking of it as an essential part of their business processes.
Cultivating Creativity, Productively
The scary part of creativity is that it requires free time- time to explore, to engage, to learn new things, and to let the mind wander. None of this sounds particularly productive, and since you can’t guarantee sparks of imagination, trying to design our work around cultivating creativity can be tricky. Only you can know what’s going to get your/your team’s creative juices flowing, but here are a few suggestions:
Block out time. The first step to cultivating creative thinking is to make it a priority- and block out time accordingly. Although most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to carve massive chunks of time out of our time without our boss asking questions, even starting with 30 minutes dedicated to harnessing creativity each week can have an impact.
Block out time in the afternoon, specifically. It might seem counterintuitive, but studies suggest imagination is improved with fatigue, so try to do this in the afternoon. If you want to eliminate the limitations that busy work puts on creativity, try carving out time immediately after lunch.
Take breaks. The cornerstone of creative thinking is drawing on your knowledge base, and applying this knowledge in innovative ways. Recent research suggests knowledge is much more strongly consolidated in our minds if we take a break immediately after learning- so be sure to schedule a quick break after any research.
Make offsites/brainstorming an integral part of your company culture. Much like creativity, offsites and brainstorming are seen as perk, rather than a must, in business. But breaking out of the office and allowing for more unstructured thought and discussion has a positive impact on creativity- and therefore, a vital impact on your business. Showing a top-down approach to cultivating creativity will also encourage employees to pursue creative thinking.
Reward big ideas. Make sure creative thinking is rewarded and incentivised, just as much as hitting sales targets and meeting deadlines is.
Eileen McNulty-Holmes is a writer and content specialist based in Berlin. For the past ten years, they have written, edited and strategized for companies and publications spanning tech, arts and culture.