Is your Office Space killing Creativity?
Is your Office Space killing Creativity?
Post written by Paragon Interiors   October 17, 2018

Your working environment is one of the top 6 influences on your business success.

One of the most frequently heard buzzwords today is creativity. The requirement to continuously innovate, challenges us every day. The quality of this innovation requires us, our colleagues and our employees, to perpetually strive to promote new ideas, thereby fostering growth for companies – particularly in a highly competitive, modern working environment.

Creativity is not limited to artistic people. It’s about imagination, which is a skill we can all develop. Imagination is visualising something that doesn’t exist, whilst Creativity is about using your imagination to tackle a challenge or problem. This should involve all aspects of a business’s processes, its products and its services. Most of us, however, are not always sure where to begin. Innovation uses this creativity, fuelled by imagination, to find a unique solution where no one else has been able to yet.

Tina Seelig, a professor at Stanford University, teaches a course on Creativity and Innovation and sums up the six prerequisites for mastering creativity. Three of these can relate directly to you, i.e. Knowledge, Imagination and Attitude, and three relate to the outside world i.e. Resources, Culture and Habitat.

Tina believes these requirements are all interwoven and are a good recipe for creativity and innovation.

Knowledge is the vessel for imagination. The more we know, the more resources we can explore. The more resources we have, the more we can learn. So the more you know about growing vegetables, the more vegetables you will grow. The more vegetables you have, the more you will know about vegetables.

Attitude and culture work in the same way. Culture is the shared attitude of the company and the culture obviously influences how each employee or colleague thinks about challenges. It’s about the people that you work with, the rules and rewards, controls and incentives. Employees are influenced by their colleagues around them, so choose staff wisely. Being creative is not always easy, so you need to have a positive attitude, be driven, engaged and motivated to make it work. Be curious and observe your surroundings. Positive, inspiring and supportive environments incubate these attitudes.

Your attitude or mindset needs to change so that instead of seeing an ‘explicit’ or defined task, you see a layering of varied questions and solutions.

Our work environment

The physical space that we work in also provides a backdrop and context for this creativity. As a child we attend nursery school or pre-school and are surrounded by an environment of stimulation, vibrancy, colour, texture and excitement. The space offers flexibility and invites creativity. Chatting and story telling is encouraged, as is experimentation, group and individual tasks, and the acceptance that we are allowed to fail …. and try again.

So why do we prescribe fixed desks, in boring rows at the office, with muted wall colours and obsequious rules – surely this stunts creativity? The environments we surround ourselves in, affect our imagination directly and the way we think, feel and behave. So …turn the norms upside-down! Build an environment that unlocks imagination. Have colourful, varied-shaped desks that are mobile, interchangeable and height adjustable. Have different types of chairs from bean bags to moveable ottomans to chairs on castors. Include patterned fabrics on chairs, stimulating wall colours and textured finishes.

Pay attention to acoustics and appropriate lighting. High ceilings have been proven to stimulate creativity as have blue ceilings, with red walls helping to focus attention. Provide multi-sensory areas that support and stimulate different tasks. Create different experiences that encourage playful behaviour and send the message that passion and creativity is welcomed. Support these spaces with resources such as writable walls, sticky notes, even play dough for prototypes, or any other necessary resource easily on hand. Play cleverly selected background music to influence the mood and change the energy. Don’t forget what is outside the windows as this also affects how you feel. Use what you already have and stop concerning yourself with what the opposition or other companies may have.

Office Culture

Management must support employees with a culture of learning, curiosity and experimentation. Build habits to encourage imagination, provide mentorship and sounding boards to give feedback and advice, and don’t forget to show appreciation for employees or colleagues efforts!

If the aim of solving a problem or project is to create value, those involved will feel a sense of achievement and wellbeing. Those employees with a sense of wellbeing are more likely to be engaged, and with enhanced creativity they see opportunities rather than problems. It’s how we approach the task that changes the outcome.

Reframing the problem & collaborating

We need to define the constraints of a problem and then look at it again from a different point of view or “reframe” the problem. That helps us understand that there are many solutions to a challenge. So, take a risk by stepping out of your comfort zone and try something new. Evaluate your industry standards and turn them upside down. Tina’s example, is if we ask the question, “What is the sum of 5 plus 5? We can only expect one answer whereas if we ask, “What two numbers add up to ten? Then we have an infinite amount of possible answers. It’s an important tool for unlocking creativity.

Michael Barry, a professor at Stanford, emphasises asking “why?” If I ask you to build a bridge, you could build me a bridge or you could ask why? If I said to get to the other side of the river, you now have many more possibilities of solving the problem. You could suggest a boat, a hot air balloon, dig a tunnel, etc.

Brainstorming ideas is not a new concept, but in general, people in a group feel that they should only contribute good ideas whereas all ideas, even silly ones, can sometimes lead to new ideas, which can lead to success.

Examine odd answers! Having many ideas instead of only quality ideas, does help to provide you with lots of concepts to draw from. Provide inspirational spaces in your office to help stimulate creative thinking. These spaces should be easily accessible for those informal meetings to work through ideas. Some of these areas should have acoustic privacy so that the team feels comfortable enough to verbalise all sorts of ideas without being conscious of others listening to them and judging their suggestions. Make the setting a safe zone for experimentation!

Introduce time constraints though – creative thinking often occurs when there are deadlines that need to be met.

Lastly, introduce humour into your office culture. It gets people to listen, pay attention, improves understanding, reduces status differentials, diffuses conflict, builds trust and helps colleagues bond. This makes us work better together, and we all know that two creative ideas are better than one.

Sources

How to come up with Good Ideas, Marc Rober, TedxYouth@ColumbiaSC, July 2, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1kbrlZRDvU

5 ways to reframe a problem and find an innovative solution, Professor Paddy Miller, 27 March 2017, https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2017/03/27/5-steps-reframe-business-problem

A crash course in Creativity. Tina Seelig at TedxStanford Aug 1 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyM6rx69iqg

How reframing a problem unlocks innovation. Innovation Engine 19 April 2013 https://www.fastcompany.com/1672354/how-reframing-a-problem-unlocks-innovation

InGenius: A crash course on creativity. Tina Seelig Publisher Hay House, 6 August 2012