To Survive the Crisis, Think Creatively

90% of executives believe that COVID-19 has changed how their businesses will operate across the next five years. Companies are now looking for innovative solutions to survive. But innovation can’t come from nowhere — it must be fostered in positive environments, and if you innovate the way you take care of your people, creativity will follow.

July 23, 2020 4 mins read

“Innovate or die.”

For many years this has been how the business world conducted itself, because the reality of it is unavoidable. If you didn’t keep up or get ahead, you would fall behind. And those that fall behind are forgotten.

While I’m not here to advise you on how to innovate your company’s services or products, I can tell you this: if you innovate the way in which you take care of your people, innovation and creativity will follow.

We’re entering an uncertain phase of this pandemic world. This anxiety is reflected in how business executives are treating their companies. In a recent survey by McKinsey, 90% of executives believe that the COVID crisis will fundamentally change how they do business in the next five years, while 85% are concerned that it will have a lasting impact on their customer’s needs and wants. What is more alarming is that less than 30% of executives feel that they are prepared to address these changes.

Survival depends on creativity and innovation

What is abundantly clear is that businesses are searching for creative, flexible and innovative solutions to survive (and thrive). Though some companies have enjoyed a spike of productivity from working from home, this kind of burst is unsustainable. Without innovative ways of taking care of your people, you risk their wellbeing and their ability to be creative.

Companies need to be able to adapt their core capabilities and business processes to meet customer needs. Whether this is in new products, new services or new business processes, these innovative solutions are built on the creativity of your people.

While creativity tends to apply to artistic endeavours, I’m referring to business creativity. As defined by Teresa Amabile, business creativity refers to the way people approach problems and the way they use expertise, motivation and creative thinking skills. Creativity can be found in all sectors — it is the activity of happy workers — and can be applied to business processes, products and services.

In short, creativity is the precursor to all innovation.

How positivity and creativity work together

Creativity is also a pathway to happier employees and increased productivity. In my research, I’ve been able to confirm that employees who are happy and positive about their work are more likely to be creative, both now and across the next three months. These findings build on the vast literature on positive psychology. People in positive moods are better at lateral thinking, processing complex information and have a better attention span.

A positive employee experience inspires creativity.

In one study, students were shown short films that either put them in a positive mood or were neutral. They were then required to solve a challenge: they were given a candle, a box of pins, and matches, and asked to fix a candle to a corkboard in a way that would not drip wax. The results? 75% of the students who had watched the film that put them in a positive mood solved the task — only 13% of students in the control group did. 

Generating creativity through challenge

One of the questions we ask at Friday Pulse is, “How often do you get a chance to be creative in your job?”

We ask this question as part of Challenge — one of our Five Ways to Happiness at Work framework. Challenge is about moving beyond the status quo, about learning new things and creating new things. It is an iterative learning process best fuelled by a combination of creative energy and the capacity to take on feedback. Challenge leads to a positive feedback loop — as people are challenged well, they feel more competent, more like they can achieve and more creative.

Challenge also forces people to stretch and extend their abilities. A good leader ensures that the stretch is not so little that their people are bored, but not so much that they are overwhelmed. Leaders make sure the right assignments match the right employee. The sweet spot is in the middle where people feel engaged, useful and happy.

How do you support and challenge your team to be creative?

For sustainable creativity, you need to innovate how you take care of your people. A happy work environment (even in the current work from home conditions) is one that fosters creativity and innovation. Yet, many businesses forget that their people don’t just do the work; they reimagine the work.

At this time, a leader’s role is to make sure that people enjoy their work and are happy. It requires a facilitative style of leadership to learn about your team’s tendencies and inspire them. Here’s how you can help your organization become more creative:

Create a space of psychological safety

Psychological safety is critical. We’ve talked about how people need to know that they are safe, that their jobs are safe, and that everything will work out. They need a space that they feel safe enough to discuss how they’re really thinking and feeling about work.

In a psychologically safe place, your people are more likely to open up and share their opinions. Remember, true creativity comes from difference. Diversity in opinion leads to flexibility in thinking and, ultimately, the ideas you need. Creativity requires a degree of failure – all solutions are not always tenable, and your team needs to have that space (and safety) to take risks.

Give people resources

Amabile states that the two major resources that affect creativity are time and money. In some circumstances, time pressure can cause people to create more, but extremely tight deadlines can cause distrust or burnout. In reality, creativity takes time — it needs space to experiment and explore new concepts. As a leader, not planning enough time for the creative process is asking for disaster.

With work from home being the “new normal”, it’s also essential to make sure that team calls are done efficiently. Keep meetings to less than five people. You won’t be creative with 20 people on a Zoom call. On calls that large, people are less likely to speak up.

Innovate the way you look after your people

Helping your people be happy is an act of personal care, team bonding — virtual coffee, cake and chocolate, and hangouts — and creating space to share how difficult things are now. It’s about tracking happiness and challenging each other when it drops to new levels of positivity.

If you’re reading this article, you are probably interested in how you can improve your workplace culture. You recognize that right now, in the current pandemic, workplace culture is a priority. Friday Pulse is designed for forward-thinking companies that recognize the importance of their people’s wellbeing.

We don’t focus on engagement scores and outdated metrics. Instead, by tracking happiness scores, you get a real-time update on how your teams are coping while highlighting who needs more support. As we collect this data, we can show you if your initiatives and solutions are actually working. 

To find out more about how Friday Pulse can support your organization through the continuing pandemic, please contact my colleague Clive Steer at [email protected]