There was a time when the concept of creativity was only associated with writers, painters, musicians and similar people in artistic professions. But with the ever-increasing necessity of cultivating a unique brand personality, the need for creative thinking has transitioned from the arts into everyday business. In addition, the act of producing a product that distinguishes itself from competitors in a marketplace where differences are often hard to come by demands a high degree of creativity both in innovation and marketing.
As a result, it's now become commonplace for companies - both large and small - to adopt policies that foster creativity and thereby promote innovation.

But what is meant by creativity? And how can it be harnessed effectively?

Defining the Creative Environment

Creativity is the mental and social process used to generate ideas, concepts and associations that lead to the exploitation of new ideas. Or to put it simply: innovation. Through the creative process, employees are tasked with exploring the profitable outcome of an existing or potential endeavor, which typically involves generating and applying alternative options to a company's products, services and procedures through the use of conscious or unconscious insight. This creative insight is the direct result of the diversity of the team - specifically, individuals who possess different attributes and perspectives.

It's important to note that innovation is usually not a naturally-occurring phenomenon. Like a plant, it requires the proper nutrients to flourish, including effective strategies and frameworks that promote divergent levels of thinking. For example, by supporting an open exchange of ideas among employees at all levels, organizations are able to inspire personnel and maintain innovative workplaces.

Therefore supervisors must manage for the creative process and not attempt to manage the creativity itself, as creativity typically does not occur exclusively in an individual's head but is the result of interaction with a social context where it's codified, interpreted and assimilated into something new. Within this system, incentives are paramount - ranging from tangible rewards such as monetary compensation to the intangible, including personal satisfaction and social entrepreneurship.

How to Set Up a Creative Work Space to Foster Innovation

Establishing a creative environment takes more than just turning your employees loose and giving them free reign in the hope they'll hit on something valuable. As with any other system, the process of creativity requires the proper framework to operate effectively, which also enables management to evaluate the profitability of the results.

Popular approaches to fostering innovation through creativity include:
  • Create a stimulating environment. Offices that include stimulating objects such as journals, art, games and other items - some of which may not even be directly related to your business - serve as sources of inspiration. In addition, structuring the work area by removing physical barriers between people will improve communication and promote creative interaction.
  • Reward efforts through positive psychological reinforcement. Encourage your employees to take risks, rewarding them for creative ideas and not penalizing them when they fail. In doing so, you'll enable people to more readily take on assignments that stretch their potential (and that of your organization), discussing in advance any foreseeable risks and creating the necessary contingency plan. Encourage employees at all levels to contribute suggestions for improving current business operations.
  • Foster different points of view through outside perspectives. Innovation can often spring from a review of how your customers view and use your products and services. Soliciting their opinions can provide valuable insight into potential areas for improvement as well as areas where you're succeeding (essential knowledge for positioning against competitors). Other perspectives might include: vendors, speakers from other industries or consumers using a competitor's products or services.