Creativity in the Workplace and Why it Matters

This job skill is increasing in importance

April 16, 2020 | Amanda Finn

Creativity in the WorkplaceEmployees crave challenges. Freelancers crave breadth. Companies crave attention. 

In all three scenarios the common, simplest answer, is creativity.

Creativity can help workers stay interested and focused on the job. In a 2018 Udemy study 54% of surveyed employees indicated that trying new things helps maintain their engagement. When folks are given the chance to be creative, the employer and product are the better for it. 

Building creativity can be a valuable competitive strategy. For example, it’s creativity that helps Apple continually dominate innovative workspaces

“Creativity is essential in business because it’s a differentiator,” says Tucker Marion, an associate professor in Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business and director of the Master of Science in Innovation program. “If you’re looking at an iPhone versus a Samsung, at the outset, they’re very similar. But once you start digging, there’s more creativity in the iPhone. Take facial recognition, for example: It’s a seamless user experience. Just because someone is first to market with a feature doesn’t mean they’re more creative. Design and the user experience mean a lot to overall creativity of a feature or service.”

Work becomes the place to be, not exist

If employees are spending 40+ hours of their lives every week working, they can benefit by having the option to enjoy what they do. Creativity can take even the most mundane activities and transform them into a learning experience. By breaking out of the box employers can empower their employees to better the work and themselves all at once. 

Steelcase’s Creativity at Work report makes it clear that focus in jobs across the board is shifting. It found that 55% of all surveyed employees said they would like more opportunities to be creative at work, while 85% indicated that they see the rise in creativity in the workplace continuing on into the future. And being creative doesn’t have to be a big change. It can be as simple as coming up with a new way to solve a problem, according to 61% of those surveyed

The findings show that this wave of creative workplace solutions is largely a Western ideal. According to the report, “The most creatively active country surveyed is Germany, where 83% of employees say that they are required to be creative either every day or every week in their job, followed by the US, where this is the case for 82%. At the other end of the scale, Japanese workers are currently the least creative in the workplace, with just 54% saying they are required to be creative at least once per week and nearly a quarter (22%) reporting that their job doesn’t require any creativity.”

Actively engaging new processes is a workplace phenomenon across industries of all kinds (as surveyed by Steelcase.)

At the top of the creative ladder, Germany and the United States make it clear that encouraging creativity is a priority. It ultimately leads to less distracted workers who are happier and most likely on the younger end of the spectrum since workers from Generation Y and Z are more interested in creative opportunities

Benefits apply to all

When it comes to fostering a workplace of creativity, the benefits don’t just apply to the workers employing their creative sides. The benefits run across the board. 

Best Practice Consulting sees the strongest benefits as:

  • Better teamwork and team bonding
  • Increased workplace engagement and interaction
  • Improved ability to attract and retain quality employees
  • Increased staff morale, fun, and happiness
  • Increased workplace problem solving and productivity

The theory to applying creativity is, basically, that bright ideas give birth to more ideas. 

Honing an ability to be creative is an essential life skill. Applying it to work makes work feel even more important and worthwhile to those taking part in it. When hiring the best of the best or looking for work, creativity is the kind of skill an employer can’t teach. It’s something a worker has to come upon on their own. 

Creativity is the skill that makes a good workplace a great one. It’s the kind of thing that can’t be qualified on a resume, but proven when a project goes off the rails. Most importantly, it’s what shows a company who their most valuable people are. 

And getting to utilize their creativity shows employees what kind of company they work for. 

A necessity in the age of automation

Cultivating an environment of creative problem solving isn’t just a newfangled way to keep workers happy. It’s becoming more and more necessary as services switchover to automation. While automated systems are timesavers as well as cost savers, they simply aren’t capable of the creativity only the human mind can think up. 

“Researchers have projected that automation may claim 800 million jobs around the world by 2030,” according to Katharine Schwab at Fast Company. “Others suggest that as many as half of American jobs may be under threat from automation. But amid all the handwringing about robots taking people’s jobs, Oleinik’s [Anton Oleinik, a sociology professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland] analysis is further evidence that AI will likely only replace repetitive tasks that humans aren’t particularly skilled at to begin with. Even as AI creeps into creative fields, it is still only doing the work of recommending ideas to a human designer, who is spared some of his or her job’s mindlessness but still makes the final call about what a website or app will look like.”

There are several theories that Oleinik posits about AI and the future of creativity in the workplace. The theories essentially decide that AI simply cannot replicate creativity. Robots cannot think creativity into existence. 

Oleinik believes robots are incapable of creativity because: they cannot anticipate pattern changes, apply social intelligence or compellingly argue. Essentially they cannot be creative because they lack the humanity to do so. 

In the years leading up to such large automation takeovers, it’s even more important to understand the need for human creativity. It simply cannot be replicated for the sake of automation, no matter how much industry would love it to be so.

  • About The Author
  • Amanda Finn is an InfoWorks contributing writer and a freelance journalist based out of Chicago. She writes about the gig economy, entrepreneurship, and the future of work.