Creativity cannot be forced, but it can always be fostered. It all comes down to how you, as HR professionals, can nurture creativity within the environment that surrounds you.
Fostering innovation is a big challenge for HR, who is often responsible for using the physical office space to help make the workplace more creative, and often, innovation is simply tied to company culture. It’s no wonder that big names like Google and Facebook are trying everything from hi-tech sleep pods to lavish mini golf courses in the hopes of developing work environments that foster innovative behavior and freedom of thinking.
To help inspire your practice, we’ve compiled five out-of-the-box ideas for developing a work environment that is conducive to innovative behavior—no matter your budget.
1. Assess Your Lighting Conditions
Contrary to popular belief, working in dim light can actually make you more creative, at least according to a study by the Journal of Environmental Psychology on how physical environments can affect creativity. Researchers conducted six studies where participants were made to perform various creative tasks with varying lighting conditions. The results showed that participants produced their most creative work when they were working under dim lighting.
Researchers concluded that dim light can put our minds into an exploratory mode, helping us think more freely—and as we all know, freedom of thought and expression are crucial for exercising creativity.
Tip: Work closely with the office administrator to create a lighting atmosphere with minimal downward-directed illumination.
2. Solve Puzzles as a Team
Puzzles are fun, but they can also help in improving productivity. Here’s one HR can facilitate without breaking a sweat: the candle experiment. All you need is a candle, a matchbox, and two steel rings. The aim is to create the figure ‘8’ by joining the steel rings.
The obvious solution would be to light the candle with the matchbox and use the wax to stick the rings together. The problem is, the wax won’t be strong enough to hold the two rings. Keep pushing employees to find a better solution. After analyzing the problem closely, they will realize the solution was the wick, not the wax!
This exercise helps in overcoming functional fixedness—a cognitive block in which a person finds it difficult to use a familiar object in unconventional ways. In short, it allows employees to try out unique ideas with the resources they have at hand.
Tip: Make puzzles part of your team-building activities, allowing employees to improve on creativity while having fun.
3. Encourage Systematic Daydreaming
Daydreaming has always been associated with innovation and creativity. But, not all daydreaming is helpful, especially without any intent. You may not recall much from letting your mind wander, as there is no particular direction or context, which can make it difficult to come up with imaginative solutions and insights.
To be effective, consider training employees to practice systematic daydreaming. First, have employees collect and analyze all the relevant facts and figures. Next, identify the problem or the situation clearly, and note down expectations from the exercise. Finally, let the mind wander, allowing the subconscious to connect the dots, and come up with insights and solutions. This will prevent irrelevant associations and reduce the chance of aimless wandering or overthinking.
Tip: Conduct exercises among employees that help them daydream to come up with creative solutions. Say you are naming a new product, consider a naming competition to see who can think of the best idea.
4. Make Some Noise
A lot of people assume that silence is the key to creativity, but this is often not the case. Silence does help when trying to focus, as it will improve your problem-solving capacity and attention to detail. However, it can also hinder your ability to think creatively.
On the other hand, loud music will also not do any good—it will only serve to distract and disorient employees. The key here is to achieve a balanced, moderate level of noise. Ambient, low-level noises like that of ceiling fans, rainfall, or waves hitting the shores can boost concentration and creativity. These sounds can have a soothing effect and help the imagination to wander freely.
Tip: Consider offering employees a selection of soothing background noises to play in the office or on their personal devices.
5. Regulate Caffeine Consumption
Coffee is known to help the world’s workforce stay alert and awake. But, if you are a creative professional, coffee may not be the ideal drink. Research shows that caffeine was found to inhibit creativity, as it blocks the creation of a chemical called Adenosine in our brain––the very chemical that helps the mind wander freely.
Encourage employees to regulate coffee consumption according to the type of tasks they are working on. Brainstorming sessions, for example, are a great time to skip the coffee. When working on something that requires long hours of concentration and attention to detail, however, a mug of coffee may be the perfect choice.
Tip: Educate employees about caffeine consumption. You might set up simple infographics near the food pantry, on workplace notice boards, or as an email.
HR plays an important role in creating an office environment that drives employee innovation. Consider these simple and cost-effective strategies to help your employees hit their creative stride and do amazing things.