Creativity is the driving force behind a number of new products, services, and companies around the world. Yet many businesses don’t foster this sort of thinking in the workplace; sometimes they even actively work against it.
Whether or not they realize it, there are a variety of ways that businesses kill creativity on a daily basis—which is not only bad for employees, but also the organization as a whole.
So what can be done?
The first step is to identify the creativity killers. Here are some of the most common, which link to blog posts with even more advice on the topic:
Rejecting ideas because they’re different from the way you’ve done things might seem logical, yet it’s antithetical to any goal of creative or innovative thinkers. True creativity is about taking risks, breaking new ground, and discovering things that are new and novel—not just more of the same. If you limit employees to only working within existing bounds, you’re creating a poor environment for creativity.
Creativity can flourish in the most Spartan situations, but generally it takes time and money to make that happen on command. Asking employees to work with little to no resources, and within an unrealistically short time frame, might sound like a dream of a budget-conscious company. But it’s sure to burn out employees and leave them resenting you, hating their jobs, and lacking any new ideas. Allowing employees enough time and resources to do their jobs effectively is essential for fostering a creative environment.
Trying to control anything and everything on a project down to the last detail won’t help creativity. In fact, it’s sure to drive off the best creative talent, leaving you with those who are less capable and who probably need more supervision. Micro-management breeds frustration, wastes time, and kills morale as employees feel you don’t trust them to complete their jobs correctly and on time. Step back and provide consistent guidance if you want to foster a creative environment in the workplace.
People who are alike generally get along well, but that’s not always a great thing when it comes to creativity. It also means they might be thinking similarly and will avoid disagreements that could push members of the group to do something exceptional. Teams should consist of people with differing skills, abilities, viewpoints, and even backgrounds. That way, they bring a number of different approaches to the table when trying to solve a problem. These kinds of groups may not work as seamlessly, but their work will likely make up for it.
Just because it’s most convenient for a certain person do a job doesn’t always mean he or she is the right fit. Failing to match employees with their appropriate roles is one way companies dampen creativity. Ideally, an employee should feel challenged, but that the job is within his or her capabilities to complete on time and at a high quality. If those terms aren’t met, creativity suffers and so does the company.
Without feedback, it’s hard to know whether you’re achieving the results the company wants. And it’s likely to make you more hesitant and unsure in your future work. Companies and managers need to let their creative employees know when something is a success and when something could be better, as feedback is an essential part of the creative process. Otherwise, employees will start to feel lost, unappreciated, and perhaps even confused about the goals of the company and what their role is in meeting them.
Creativity takes time. In many instance, it won’t offer an immediate and obvious payout to the company, even if the idea is a good one. Demanding that creative people think of good ideas and explain exactly how and when they’ll benefit the company is unreasonable. It will make most people reluctant to share their thoughts. Not every idea has to be a goldmine to be useful to an organization.
We all think differently and use different methods to come up with ideas, so why should all employees have to work the same? Some might have their best ideas in the morning; others might like to stay in the office long after everyone has left. If employees are getting the job done on time, not disturbing their co-workers, and producing good work, there’s no reason to dictate the way they get to that end goal.
Even good ideas don’t always work out, and employees shouldn’t be punished for their creativity, even their idea fails. The quickest way to destroy creativity is to rub these kinds of failures in the faces of employees and to remind them of mistakes on future projects. If you want to keep creativity high, stand up for employees; don’t tolerate gossip or infighting; don’t take sides or play favorites, and provide a supportive, open environment where employees can work.
Incentives don’t always have to be monetary. Sometimes, employees just want to know they’ve done a good job and played a pivotal role in a team. Of course, more concrete forms of reward never hurt. They can help boost morale and give employees a sense that they have a true investment in the future of the company. Employees who are invested in the company and see their interests intertwined with those of the organization are more likely to turn out high quality work.
Sean Gallagher is the editor of OnlineMBA.com, the No. 1 ranked news destination about online MBAs. Gallagher is the former managing editor online at Los Angeles Times and has worked for AOL and The New York Times websites. A version of this story first appeared at OnlineMBA.com.