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Unlocking creativity in the hybrid working era: what can HR learn from design management?

Creativity is no longer a 'nice-to-have' but a 'must-have' employee skill for companies that aim to be flexible, innovative and competitive. Marcus Leaning from the School of Design and Creativity at Arden University explains how our creative minds work and the ways in which we can tap into our creative mindset

Graphic of two heads one problem solving the other contemplating

Creativity is a key cognitive function that spreads into many areas of our lives. It allows us to be flexible in new environments, find solutions in unexpected situations and further evolve as a species.

Creativity is grounded in everyday abilities, such as conceptual thinking, perception, memory and reflective self-criticism. It’s therefore not often seen as a ‘special faculty’ but rather an aspect of human intelligence in general. This means it spreads to the corners we may not even deem as innovative – including throughout business processes. In fact, it’s our ability to be creative that allows us to solve the complex problems that often come with the complicated ways of the human mind.

Is everyone creative?

Creativity isn’t confined to a selection of people: in the words of professor in cognitive science Margaret Boden, every one of us is creative to a degree. With this in mind creativity can certainly be taught.

But it’s important to keep in mind that there isn’t just one way for a person to be creative, nor one set of characteristics that will differentiate what’s creative and what’s not. This means that for creativity to be truly integrated having an open mind and a holistic approach toward problems is vital.

The set of skills and attitudes that people would need to develop to explore their creativity, therefore, are accepting ambiguity, redefining and solving problems, taking risks by questioning the norm and following an inner passion.

How creative thinking works in a hybrid world

To put the above into context in a professional environment there are some considerations workplaces need to implement. For instance, in a world where some are working from home and others are working at the office more collaboratively there are different ways to tap into our creative mindset.

Creativity can follow in a collaborative setting. Research has found that collaboration has a positive influence over creativity, which can occur in shared thought communities, or loose networks of collaborative groups, where ideas and practices may be shared and appropriated for individual as well as for collective ends. Often, embracing diversity and learning about the surrounding or affected community can inspire creativity.

To add a different perspective to this research has also shown that anxiety-free time spent in solitude can allow for, and foster, creative thinking and work, and this makes sense – it shows why a walk, a short conversation or the commute home may spark creativity: it puts a hold on impending deadlines and stress. Research has also demonstrated that artists want to control how their ideas are generated, shaped and executed, meaning they prefer creating independently  projects that they can ‘own’. This may point towards letting workers think and tap into their creative juices alone.

In spite of the numerous mediums available for expressing creativity, technological advancements have also paved new avenues for those who are on the receiving end. As a result we now have access to an array of creative ideas and global innovations, while simultaneously opening doors to reach new people and audiences through the possibilities that technology brings. And while some view digital platforms as stifling creative processes – especially as they can isolate individuals or can restrict how we express ourselves – it can also open doors.

With creativity being influenced by both collaboration and isolated thinking, therefore, it can be confusing trying to determine which works best for employees.

Inspiring creative juices

Luckily for businesses the above pinpoints that a hybrid working style doesn’t hinder our creativity. Ensuring a human-centric approach, which pushes collaboration and the opportunity to safely think outside the box and experiment, is what really helps our creative juices to flow.

Whether your creative juices flow better in isolation at home or next to your team in the office, there are some effective design thinking principles which businesses can implement to ensure that they use their capacity to create and solve workplace problems innovatively and as effectively as possible.

Core design principles focus on:

  • Empathy – the ability to empathise with those who are having the issue in order to improve understanding
  • Defining – collaboration helps to embrace different perspectives and ideas
  • Ideation – creating new ‘out of the box’ ideas must occur in a judgement-free zone
  • Experimentation – testing and experimenting with the ideas created to understand shortcomings and strengths
  • Action – turning ideas into real prototypes and tackling issues head-on

Implementing these factors creates a human-centred solution, while allowing creators to quickly learn and obtain new understandings and resolutions to the problems they are facing. However the core design thinking principles revolve around a deep interest in developing an understanding of the people you’re creating for. This means that those looking to find creative solutions to business demands need to keep in mind their target audience and those on the receiving end of future actions. It helps if they observe and develop empathy with the user, allowing them to consider alternative options to any creative blocks.

Marcus Leaning, pictured below, is head of department for the School of Design and Creativity at Arden University

Marcus Leaning Arden University

Published 6 September 2023
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