Flip Corporate Conditioning: Promote Creativity and Foster a Flow-Friendly WorkplaceMar 01, 2023
Throughout our life and work, we’ve all been conditioned to believe that we need to be and act a certain way, so we can fit inside the box that society has created for us. The sad thing is that, over time, we forget who we are and are merely conforming to society's or our employer’s expectations. Too often we are chasing tight deadlines, obsessed with the numbers game, managing corporate politics, and trying to prove our worth through fear of losing our job.
This means we are limiting our potential and are not in our innate “creative genius zone”.
Think about this: If the desired results in a business are always met, we assume that the methods are effective. But if the results aren’t good, repeatedly, instead of seizing the opportunity to learn from the issues and review the methods, we simply take the band-aid approach; we fix the issues as they arise and keep on ‘doing’ the same thing that led to the problem in the first place. Because ‘doing’ is what we are conditioned to do. But, in fact, it is counter-productive.
The methods and practices used in organisations can greatly impact the overall culture of the workplace.
Organisations should be willing to reassess their methods and make changes to improve outcomes. As we all know, continuing to do things the same way and expecting different results is the definition of ‘insanity!’
Which raises the questions business leaders should consider …
- Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to the success of the business for the team to be in their creative essence, instead of trying to shove them back inside the box of limitations?
- Why do we stop the creative flow of our team?
- Why do we restrict our team to the straight and narrow?
- Why do we limit the potential of the employee, the team, and therefore the results of our business?
- How can we, as leaders, encourage more flow and creativity in the workplace?
The Benefits of Creativity
Staying creative, being original and showing initiative are increasingly valuable assets in the workplace for both individuals and teams; they shouldn’t be sacrificed even when the business is driven by the pillars of organisation and mission.
Nobody wants to feel like a drone, everyone works better when they feel their work is meaningful and valued, to the business and to themselves. Encouraging creative thinking can allow individuals, teams and management to grasp the bigger picture and identify issues and problems that impact the business that may be missed if we’re simply ‘churning’ out work.
Employees that are encouraged to be creative are more motivated to make a difference in the workplace and the business. They become more productive, as they gain emotional buy-in.
Work without passion is boring and tedious, but creativity sparks passion. Regardless of the department or role, being creative or being involved in the creative process can empower employees. It promotes adaptability and allows for the discovery of new skills and talents for continued employee development.
Creativity can also lend itself to a psychologically safe workplace, as creativity gives permission for failure while the flow of new ideas are explored. Not everything is going to work, but fearing failure prevents the ability to identify and improve practices and processes, limits employee engagement and ultimately cripples growth.
It’s Time for a Cultural Shift
The soft skills of empathy, communication, adaptability, emotional intelligence and compassion (among others) are being heralded as some of the key traits required to thrive in the workplace and to become a great leader.
There is increasing evidence that these are the skills great organisations will have embedded into their culture, as they lend themself to increased productivity and a reduction of stress, anxiety and burnout across the workplace.
Recently, experts and change makers are identifying the new kids on the block, as employee wellness becomes a priority.
Contemplation and self-reflection are powerful and, frankly, underutilised tools in the corporate landscape. These ways of working can set the tone for, and enhance the culture within an organisation, encouraging the kind of creativity that workplaces need to thrive.
Reflection is the foundation that soft skills grow from. It’s about taking a good honest hard look at yourself and sitting with that, sometimes uncomfortably. Taking the time to learn about what's happened during the day or the week without bias to contemplate our behaviour and how it affects outcomes.
Harvard Business engaged in a study early in 2022 by asking 422 executives to ‘reflect’ on what experiences had the most impact on their development and improved their leadership.
By digging deep into their reflections, the executives revealed stories of embarrassment, thoughtless mistakes and complete clusterfucks, but also their big successes, great decisions and meaningful interactions.
When the researchers ran analysis of the reflections, they identified three key themes that had the most value for growth: surprise, frustration and failure. Psychologically, these are components that cognitive behavioural therapy addresses: cognition, emotion and behaviour.
Self-reflection is hard, especially when we are making decisions that affect other people, but taking the time to be courageous can help to identify, recognise and manage issues and opportunities in the workplace and the culture more effectively.
Gaps and dysfunction in the workplace processes and culture may not always be the fault of the leader, but it is the leader’s responsibility to acknowledge and accept those shortfalls and change them. It also offers the opportunity to promote and embed those practices into the workplace, which increasingly invites creativity from everyone.
Let’s Talk about Flow
Psychologists refer to ‘flow’ as being so fully absorbed in an activity that nothing exists outside of that focus.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who created the concept of flow, explained in an interview, “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Particularly famous for his positive psychology, Csikszentmihalyi championed the benefits of creativity and flow for workplaces and workers because, in a flow state, people are highly focused on what they are doing, which can help people feel greater enjoyment, energy and involvement.
Flow is a beneficial state conducive to wellbeing and, interestingly, it can happen even if the person isn’t interested in the task; it’s more about being challenged, engaged and rewarded.
The task often offers the feeling of control over the situation and the outcome, and while they know that the task is doable, there’s a balance between their skill and the challenge, and it’s rewarding. It comes with a loss of self-consciousness and awareness of their physical needs, and a serenity where the focus is on the present.
Fostering a creative and flow-friendly workplace helps productivity, engagement and innovation, and that involves taking a good long look at leadership practices, work processes and the entire workplace culture.
Some of the strategies that can encourage flow and creativity in the workplace are:
- Set aside places for focused work, minimise meetings and allow team members to be included on projects that align with their strengths and passions.
- Encourage autonomy.
- Set up cross-functional teams to spark new ideas and enable team members to build on each other’s skills and creativity.
- Promote trust and open communication.
- Provide resources and tools that enable efficiency.
- Recognise and celebrate creativity and innovation by sharing stories and giving challenges.
- Use games that encourage creativity, and enhance teamwork to shift the vibe of the workplace.
- Provide opportunities for professional development.
- Embrace failure as part of the creative process. When employees and teams feel free to take risks, they are more likely to experiment with new ideas and approaches that lead to solutions and innovation.
Change won’t happen overnight, but much of this is another phase in the new working landscapes that are embracing a workplace culture of wellbeing. For many of us, the lines have blurred between professional and personal worlds, and that needs to include fostering a safe environment for employees to flourish.
As Csikszentmihalyi champions, “Even without success, creative persons find joy in a job well done. Learning for its own sake is rewarding.”
It’s time to get with the flow.