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How to Increase Creativity in the Workplace: Proven Techniques and Strategies

Jomo Merritt
July 15, 2022

The ability to think creatively is not merely an ability but an art that needs learning. It empowers individuals and improves their natural skills which improve collaboration and productivity. 

As children, the opportunity to play & develop creativity increased exponentially. However, at work, things can be a bit different. To unlock countless opportunities in your daily work life, you should create an idea to inspire. 

There are more rewarding effects of creativity than you may realize, which is why it has become so popular.

Whether you are seeking to increase creativity among co-workers, or bring creativity and innovation to your leadership, below are 13 ways to boost creativity at work. 

1. Make individuality a priority

Ensuring team members are valued makes a world of difference. It might sound a little cliche, but it helps employees to keep up with their workload, blend in, and not become a squeaky wheel. After all, the need to belong and be part of something is a natural human emotional need.

So, how can this be done? One way is to encourage the practice of self-reflection: 

  • Warm greetings. It is important to make eye contact, say hello, and have a conversation. Genuine interest and listening are crucial.
  • Discuss their opinions with them. It's important to show that you care about what people think by asking for their honest feedback.
  • Try to solve a problem with them. Your coworkers possess skills and knowledge that you lack. Don't be afraid to ask them for help if you need it.
  • Appreciate their efforts. Let them know specifically what they are good at and how it contributes to the team as well as to the organization in a positive way.

Office space

2. Promote creativity through office design

Did you know that making changes to the office space based on human senses–sight, touch, hearing, smell, and even taste–can stimulate creativity? Paying attention to the office's choice of colors, sounds, temperature, and lighting will go a long way to help give creativity a boost. 

According to a study on the effects of color in work environment by the Asian Journal of Behavioural Studies, colors such as white and gray and expansive areas of beige, and tan can make people feel depressed.

Similarly, the temperature in the workspace can significantly affect productivity. Cornell University researchers found that people make more typing errors and waste 10 percent more time at work when they feel cold. Typing errors declined by 44 percent when the office temperature was increased from 68 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit and the typing output increased by 150 percent. 

Creativity is also influenced by light. A bright light is great for focused work, while a low light lends itself to creative thinking—ideally, have natural light whenever possible. Research also shows that working under 'blue-enriched' lights that are 17,000K can boost mental acuity, vitality, and alertness, and reduce fatigue and daytime sleepiness.

3. Encourage anonymous suggestions

Occasionally, people may feel intimidated or shy about making suggestions publicly at work. Maybe you've encouraged your team to express their creativity, but they've been paralyzed by embarrassment fears, general anxiety, or something else entirely.

An article published by employment lawyer, Mark P. Carey, discusses how fear affects people at work. According to Carey, A fear-filled workplace is not only uncomfortable for employees but also has a negative impact on overall business revenue.

A study published in 2003 shows that 50% of employees are unwilling to speak up, while another study in 2011 pointed out that many employees are conditioned to remain silent at work.

One way to overcome this barrier is by allowing employees to share new ideas anonymously. For example, provide identity-protecting forms online or create a suggestion box

4. Facilitate time management

Rome wasn't built in a day, so don't expect team members to perform miracles overnight. The Atlantic reports that employees lose 40 percent of their working hours between meetings, administrative duties, and various “interruptions.” 

Consider rethinking your workday because creativity doesn't happen on a whim. 

As a way to encourage employees to come up with fresh and creative ideas, provide them with structured time to explore, think, and come up with solutions. It's not all about Rush! Rush! Rush! Especially if they are new, give them time to deliver.

Since everyone is different and works differently, it's wise to come up with a plan that's tailored to fit everyone’s needs. Consider different situations for creative assignments so employees can find what works best for them. Would implementing time blocking strategies and designating a ‘no meetings day’ work? What about scheduling a dedicated time to turn off email notifications and chats?

As soon as you start asking for creative outputs from your employees, the environment has to be conducive to allowing them to achieve their goals. 

A group of diverse men collaborating together around a desk.

5. Maintain a diverse and inclusive workplace

You'll be glad to learn that diversity truly fosters creative thinking. A study conducted by doctoral student Min Tang suggests that creativity fosters success in intercultural and interdisciplinary teams. 

Companies benefit from having employees from different fields, schools, and ethnicities as it contributes to more innovative ideas and better critical thinking. Often, employees with similar education and experience will come up with the same ideas repeatedly, not being able to think outside the box or try new channels. 

Although bringing diversity to the workplace has many benefits, there are some barriers to overcome. Researchers have found that adding diversity to your workplace has obvious benefits, but achieving that goal isn't easy:

  • Integration problems. The key to helping a smooth transition is to implement diversity training and foster cultural events.
  • Communication. Intercultural and interpersonal communication problems are easy to arise.
  • Adapting to change is difficult. Creating a more diverse team can be hindered by resistance to change. 

Colorful sticky notes and pens sit on a dark table.

6. Encourage brainstorming 

The possibilities are endless when employees are given a blank whiteboard to work on. Your business can benefit from an empty slate, ample markers, and brainstorming opportunities. 

It is reported that Drexel University Graduate College has found brainstorming sessions to be beneficial in identifying specific messaging ideas for them to use when communicating the goals and benefits of the program to the public. In her article, The Importance of Brainstorming, Kristen Price outlines four benefits of brainstorming: encourages diversity of viewpoints; develops critical thinking skills; creates a rush of creativity; enhances teamwork.

There are also many team-building activities and games that can help not only encourage brainstorming but also increase creativity. 

Playing a one-word exercise, for example, is perfect to foster outside-the-box ideas. The host chooses a phrase related to the meeting topic. Then, ask your group to write one word down on a post-it. 

Another interactive and fun way to incentivize creative thinking—and to help overthinkers—is by playing your first idea. This activity consists of asking team members to write down the first idea that comes to mind when presented with the problem. Then, compile the answers and as a team, discuss and select the best one.

A woman works on a couch with laptop on lap and phone in hand.

7. Provide freedom and flexibility in how work is done

You must establish measurable goals and assist team members to accomplish these goals. However, you can cut the creativity of others when you micromanage them.

According to How to Help (Without Micromanaging), in order to maximize productivity and limit confusion, leaders set expectations to ensure employees know what is expected of them. The key to it being effective, however, is to not micromanage the process.

Encourage your team to make their own decisions about what to do. Tell me the technique used. How can I improve my project performance using agile methodologies? What is the advantage of using these 16 different decision-making tools as a business person?

Giving the employees of a company the autonomy to achieve a goal is an effective way to foster creative ideas that help them develop their skills.

Setting boundaries is a major characteristic distinguishing hands-on managers from micromanagers. When micromanagers supervise employees closely as they complete tasks, they often have a difficult time maintaining boundaries. 

Two women sit at a table outdoors.

9. Encourage breaks and changes of scenery

It might come as a surprise but hyper-focus on productivity does not promote creativity.  According to a Harvard Business Review article, productivity obsession may actually stifle creativity, however, innovating and coming up with creative solutions are crucial aspects of many jobs. 

As machine learning and AI becomes more preeminent in our day-to-day, the co-founder of Behance, Scott Belsky, believes we can focus on producing value through “thinking and acting creatively, producing something entirely new.”

The lesson here is that a well-rested, healthy mind at work will be more beneficial in the long run, allowing you to consistently innovate and produce your best work. So, allowing teams to have ‘non-productive time’ in the course of their workweek to do an activity (e.g. a team-building exercise) will not only increase creativity but also allow for better productivity.

People sit around a desk discussing graphs.

9. Create a supportive risk-taking environment

In a rare interview at Y Combinator’s Startup School in Palo Alto, CA in 2011, founder, chairman, and CEO of Meta Mark Zuckerberg was quoted saying “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

A successful experiment is never a failure. As long as the right mindset is in place, even if one attempt fails, there is still time and opportunity to learn indispensable lessons for future endeavors.

To support this type of environment in practice, make sure to:

  • Leading by example
  • Define what smart, calculated risks are
  • Bring on board passionate risk-takers
  • Establish a safe risk-taking environment
  • Reward risk-takers

10. Welcome feedback from new hires

Don’t be afraid of asking and getting feedback on projects and work-related issues from new hires. Because they are new to the team, they come with an unbiased and fresh perspective to tackle problems. 

“But we do things this way for years, and it works.” Yes, it works. But maybe there is a better, faster, or easier process to accomplish the same end goal. Why not give it a chance?

11. Encourage both critical and creative thinking

The ability to think critically and creatively is perhaps the most essential skill needed for solving problems, suggests Dr. Andrew Robert Baker of Milne Library. He explains that they are some of the most important skills he has ever developed in his career.

Practice thinking critically by analyzing questions, circumstances, or a problem to its most basic components. Think of different perspectives, different approaches, and different ways to approach it. Most importantly, don’t do it alone. 

Involve other team members, challenge each other, and collaborate together to ensure traditional boundaries do not limit final results.

12. Use Mind Maps and flow charts

The map helps you find innovative solutions to any question. Write a mental map by choosing an important topic and word. Immediately, connect relevant words or concepts to the keywords.

Compared to brainstorming, it allows for branching ideas and offers an easy visual view of how an idea is connected. As you work on the development of a project, create the flow chart for the entire project. Find the different paths and sequences that could occur during the course.

A flow chart is useful for identifying potential challenges in a product, eliminating potential problems if needed, and making new and innovative solutions.

13. Challenge yourself and create opportunities

You must continue to constantly challenge yourself in order to improve your creative skill. Find more challenging approaches, try new methods, and never go back to a previous solution.

A common roadblock to the development of imagination is the belief that curiosity is an indulgent thing. A reward is important, but developing motivation is equally critical. Sometimes, creative work rewards the process itself and not the product.


Originally published on Jul 8, 2019, updated on Jul 15, 2022.