4.1.4 The Creative environment

The creative environment is one where people feel at ease expressing their ideas and where positive backing is given in the development of those ideas1. In a creative environment the knowledge-base is made available, the individuals are open-minded to get inspired by lots of interactions based on their interests that strengthen their self-confidence, and space is provided for developing novel ideas - which, as an outcome, are likely to be implemented as well. 

Figure 5. Factors contributing to a creative environment2

Social environment and organizational structure enhancing creativity

 

Organisational structure and culture

Overall we can say that usually the creativity-enhancing organisational structure is flat and flexible it consists of different teams formed for the current tasks. This indicates better that people appreciate each other for who they are - irrelevant of their symbolic status within the company; as they are unique individuals, all equal

Usually in an SME this happens easier, because employees need to perform different tasks at the same time and they are to fulfil less strictly fixed requirements regarding the way they are doing their job.

The organisation culture should be supportive with open-minded individuals where people feel at ease expressing their ideas, there is no fear of failure and where positive backing is given in the development of those ideas. This would result in positive relationships and trust, which are all basic conditions for expressing ourselves openly.

Management-style

The traditional classification of the managing styles is: authoritarian style, democratic style, permissive style (laissez – faire)3. However, it is not recommended to use authoritarian domination, if you wish to stimulate a creative environment. Successful managers have the role to be the consultant of the employees delegating tasks and giving them responsibility and authority to manage the tasks themselves in the way they organize it – while the manager supervises, discusses for feedback, reward and decides about future trends and goals.

Reward-system

People are open-minded and accepting towards each other in case the reward system in the organization is self-tailored and just, perhaps equal for group-members rewarding cooperation rather than competition of the individuals. This reward system can consist of occasional extra income for the employee for his or her group performance and this way for the result. On the other hand, the reward also means oral or written personal feedback discussed with the individual providing them opportunities for exploiting or exceeding these creative results or creativity-enhancing performance. This feedback seems more important than an increased income most of the times if we would like to foster creativity. It can be the most effective if it is instantly given by the supervisor.

Group-activites

Creativity sparks in those groups, where cooperation is a typical way of handling projects. Usually these groups have a small size and they are diverse in the member’s expertise, culture and way of thinking. As an extra advantage thus in some cases, the group could involve external experts for gathering new, richer perspectives in brainstorming for new possibilities and developments.

Creative groups have lots of possibilities for interactions between each other regarding the current problem or the state of a project they are working on. Nevertheless, sometimes it is also helpful if they feel they can talk about personal matters as well. Generally, people should have positive relationships with each other. Informal meetings, problem discussions lead by the manager or any team member usually has a good effect. This way they are encouraged as well to be open-minded to listen to other approaches than the one they have themselves without immediately judging them. These interactions inspire them to develop new and new ways of approaching things and exceeding the current ways of doing things.4

Physical conditions

In a creative environment, the knowledge-base is made available for all, which means that the sources of the information are open to everyone (let them be statistics, emails, books, studies, project reports, calculations). We should organise the physical environment not hindering the flow of information, but also not distracting the individual from their own activities. Usually the nature, bigger windows with a panoramic view, sitting down to the floor, rooms that do not suggest we should live up to the conservative standards, trying out new places enhances creativity in a group.

Creativity barriers in the social environment

A mind functions only when there is an opening. A new idea is just the beginning, not the end of the creative process. An idea has to overcome a lot of barriers before becoming a solution. Here are four types of creativity barriers presented in brief:

Table 2. Killing ideas5

It is far easier to kill an idea than to encourage it and turn it into a useful solution. You have to be careful not to destroy people’s ideas or they will stop telling you about them and go and tell someone else.

It is really hard to sound constructive when someone tells you about an idea they have had, especially if the idea seems silly and unworkable. But remember, people do not voluntarily put forward bad ideas in normal situations and you should first try to understand why there are telling you about the idea. There is likely to be something in the idea which is very useful to you. Alternatively you will have the opportunity to help them understand why the idea will not work. You must first understand why they think it will work if you are to explain it in a way that they appreciate.

What are the conclusions?

  • You need to stop criticising or prejudging other people’s ideas and encourage people to share them with you
  • It is your task to help people turn their unformed ideas into reality by giving encouragement and suggestions and by asking helpful questions
  • You must never steal their ideas or pretend they are your own or people will stop sharing their ideas with you
  • You must be bold and ask for their ideas even if you appear slightly foolish for asking and even if you have a valid suggestion yourself. If you do not use their ideas, explain why not but remember to thank them anyway
  • Seeking opinions builds respect and confidence. It also builds a creative environment
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

1 For further information you can go to 4.6 Internal Innovative Proposals and 10.2 Company Culture of this guide.
2 Based on John C. Groth and John Peters (1999). What blocks creativity? A managerial perspective. Creativity and Innovation Management 8 (3) and Csikszentmihályi: Creativity
3 For more information, see module 10.2 of this Guide about company culture
4 About CoP – Communities of Practise please see 11.2 until 11.5 of this guide
5 For further information about what not to say in order to kill ideas you can go to www.brainstorming.co.uk/tutorials/helpingideas.html