The Way We Work

Business executives consistently identify creativity as a must-have skill for the future of work. According to multiple surveys, such as IBM’s 2010 Global CEO Survey, business leaders believe creativity will help navigate massive shifts in the business environment. Creativity—and its sister skill, innovation—are increasingly the difference between a business succeeding and failing.

A report earlier this year from Gartner Research also highlighted the role of innovation in the future of work. “The core value that people add…lies in the non-routine, uniquely human, analytical or interactive contributions that people make, which often relate to discovery, innovation, teaming, leading, selling and learning,” wrote Tom Austin, vice president at Gartner.

Recognizing new opportunities requires the ability to connect ideas—to look at the abstract and extract meaning. This spark fuels creatives everywhere but have we, in general, lost our touch?

Where did creativity go?

The value of creativity has been on the rise over the last decade, largely due to the emphasis on knowledge workers. Daniel Pink outlined the growing need for it in his book A Whole New Mind back in 2006, arguing that the rise of trends like automation and abundance are driving a need for more inventive thinking.

If you hail from the startup or entrepreneurial domain, innovation likely lies close to the heart. But among those who’ve risen through other environments—where doing and deadlines have been prioritized over the new and unexpected—career myopia is on the prowl. Kristin Cardinale, author of The 9-to-5 Cure, describes career myopia as “a loss of function in our imagination resulting from an inordinate amount of time spent focusing on our work life.

“We lose the ability to even visualize the big picture for lack of exercising those muscles in our imagination,” she wrote. “As a result, our field of vision narrows, and the big picture becomes fuzzy. We lose sight of our dreams and instead fixate on merely surviving instead of thriving.”

One researcher has even gone as far as to state that the U.S. is in the midst of a creativity crisis, with our overall ability to generate ideas—particularly unusual ones—on a steady decline for more than 20 years.

How can you encourage innovation?

On-demand creativity is unrealistic, but fostering an environment that encourages fresh thinking is not. There are myriad ways for an organization to empower a more creative team; here are a few:

  • Take a hands-on approach. Dean Newlund of Mission Facilitators International cites scientist John Medina’s recommended physical changes—from turning to color theory or using full-spectrum lightbulbs to walking during meetings—to create an office space that helps keep ideas flowing.
  • Look for ways to give people breathing room. ThredUP co-founder and CEO James Reinhart recently spoke to GigaOM about his company’s mandatory “work from home Wednesdays.” While the expectation is that everyone puts in a full day of work, he says the idea is to provide one day each week to step back, focus and get perspective. (In the article’s comments, employee Dan DeMeyere said “Wednesday (by far) has the biggest output of any day.”) Remote or on site, the ThredUP team still scrums every morning on Skype.
  • Adapt the principles of Work 3.0Business author Bonnie Marcus wrote in Forbes that shifting perspective from rewarding in-office time to simply results (and consequently integrating more flexible work arrangements) is the only way businesses will thrive moving forward. “This new model measures and rewards people for their performance and results, not their time,” she said. “It’s about managers and leaders creating an environment where people are free to produce results in the way that works best.”

What do you think—is creativity alive and well, or do you sense this same gap? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. She owns Nimbyist Communications and helps non-profits, startups, and small business owners get their content marketing on track.