Creative Work Environments

Everyone acknowledges that creativity is important. Creativity plays a role in role assignment, for the self and others. It aids problem solving, in identifying and fixing a given problem. It facilitates conflict resolution, compelling people to think outside the box for a win-win rather than win-lose situation.

How do you become more creative? Similar to Newton’s laws that govern motion, I believe that there are two main forces that govern human creativity:

  1. Resistance – barriers that restrain creativity
  2. Force – factors that enable creativity.

It’s relatively easy to implement force measures. Several immediately come to mind. For example you can provide people with incentives, such as: prizes, cash bonuses, promotions. You can also force behavior through threats and yelling. However the more interesting and difficult method to implement is how do you remove barriers to creativity?

Barriers that Restrain Creativity

Intuitive methods tend to focus on force, and overlook resistance. When someone hasn’t done something, it’s easy to say, people don’t want to do something. But when force is already strong and there are already lots of incentives and people are already motivated – change is best facilitated by removing resistance and eliminating barriers. As a Manager, think about the types of barriers that prevent people doing, and how to remove them.

Disclaimer, this is not debating a better style of management within a large organization vs a startup. We’re assuming that you’ve already hired the best people you can find. This post focuses on establishing how to structure a creative work environment that will help bring out the best in your established team.

What are Some Common Self-imposed Barriers?

1. Presumed self-interest. Self-interest creates self-interested behavior. This is similar to the famous prisoner’s dilemma. The interesting spin is seeing the results when the game is played by trained Economists. Economists scored significantly more selfish, presumably because of their training in economics and assumption that they know what the other person will do and therefore act accordingly. This also ties into the concept of stereotyping, where a person assumes that opposing groups have opposing preferences rather than different weighting of preferences. This naive cynicism, which forms a general distrust of others, constrains creativity.

2. Artificial barriers. This describes barriers when thinking about people. Most people generally assume others have fixed interests, stable motivations, constant personalities etc. They underestimate the affect of the situation to alter a person.

3. Problem construal. The way you interpret and define the problem frames the question and dictates your activation of stereotypes and pre-existing knowledge. Think about what is the right problem? Are all parties thinking abou the right problem?

4. Procedure driven thinking. Focusing on low level details rather than the overarching goal.

Commonalities Among Creative People

1. Have lots of ideas. Make a giant list.

2. Assess feasibility. Avoid distractions and complicated decision making. Focus on the problem statement. Get multilaterial perspective and avoid censorship.

3. Throw away bad ideas. Avoid intuitive assessment because this can create practicality bias. Experimental testing among best ideas to reveal the best idea.

Takeaways: within your environment, you want to create as few barriers as possible that may hinder implementation and testing. Including yourself. Individuals need to identify, question, and test underlying assumptions. Foster creativity by considering remote associations, analogies, problem reversals, default assumptions etc.

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