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Harnessing creativity and innovation in the workplace

RECENTLY I have noticed some organisations’ attempts at promoting creative thinking in the workplace by introducing recreational facilities like pool tables, ping-pong and some other indoor games in the work space.

People Management Issues by Robert Mandeya

Quite commendable efforts I must say, however, my worry is if these facilities are serving the intended purpose of harnessing creativity in the beneficiaries. If these are not strategically introduced in the workplace they might end up being disruptive.

Further afield, when it comes to keeping employees happy and productive, companies such as Google lead the way.

The brand is as famous for its staff perks — pool tables and bowling alleys, free food and gym memberships — as it is for its technology, and even employs a chief happiness officer whose sole job is to keep employees happy and maintain productivity.

The challenge with local organisations in this regard is the approach to creating a value-driven workplace and making it more “value focussed.” Fostering a culture of creativity is where most are found wanting.

Simply adding a ping-pong table to your break room is not enough to inspire innovation.

Workplace perks like nap rooms, coffee bars, and on-site massage might be nice-to-haves, but they are not the only path to creating a workplace culture that encourages the kind of personal and strategic risk-taking that creativity requires.

The shift to knowledge economies has been abrupt and there is a flurry of interest in creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Innovation is considered, quite simply, an imperative for organisational survival. Business leaders must do their best to create a culture where creativity is encouraged so that employees feel their ideas are valued, their minds are engaged and their thoughts are respected.

The role of management

There is a role for management in the creative process. It is not to manage creative processes but to manage for it.

Why do I say so? Because creativity does not happen exclusively and tacitly in a person’s head but in interaction with a social context wherein it may be codified. For any organisation, operating in an external environment, an interactionist model of creativity and innovation needs to encompass organisational context, organisational knowledge, and inter- and intra organisational relationships, not forgetting the (increasingly multicultural) creative make-up of the individuals (antecedent conditions, cognitive style, ability, intrinsic motivation, knowledge, personality) and teams (group composition, characteristics, and processes) who operate in it.

Types and sources of innovation

The key question is not “What fosters creativity?” but it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? The main types of innovation are divided into product innovations, service innovations, and organisational (procedural or process) innovations.

The most common are market-led or market-push innovation; others are technology-led innovations (for which markets must be developed). All can be classified depending on the degree of their impact, that is, incremental, radical, or systemic.

Peter Drucker identified seven sources of innovation: (i) unexpected occurrences, (ii) incongruities of various kinds, (iii) process needs, (iv) changes in an industry or market, (v) demographic changes, (vi) changes in perceptions, and (vii) new knowledge. (These seven sources overlap, and the potential for innovation may lie in more than one area at a time.)

He explained that purposeful, systematic innovation begins with the analysis of the sources of new opportunities. However, he emphasised that in seeking opportunities, innovative organisations need to look for simple, focussed solutions to real problems.

That takes diligence, persistence, ingenuity, and knowledge.


Organisations should nurture creativity by boosting engagement and motivation through involving employees in creative activities and offering incentives that help them enjoy their jobs and feel good about themselves.

More radical organisations can offer classes that equip staff with creative skills, such as languages, painting and drawing, and learning musical instruments.

I say so because organisations that foster a workplace culture of creativity are likely to have happy, motivated employees who are more loyal and more productive. It goes without saying that most successful businesses are those that engender creative thinking and develop environments where everyone generates ideas, has a voice, asks questions and challenges the norm.

Some ideas will stick, some will not, but what iscertain is you will learn a lot from the process along the way.

Cultivating lateral thinking

Other things to consider are to encourage creative collaborations between teams. This could be facilitated through running events such as “Engage Week”, where staff host events for other members of staff who want to learn something new. These range from games or events to craft activities, such as “The whiteboard,” Insight Days etc. Given the space employees can be entrepreneurially creative within the confines of their full-time role, injecting fresh ideas into the company, some of which are implemented and rewarded.

Design Thinking concept

This is known by many in the product and services world as a problem-solving methodology used to ensure a greater customer focus, often resulting in creative solutions.

It is both a cohesive method and a set of active learning tools. Founded on empathy, Design Thinking uses consumer observation and immersive subject matter study to produce insights that lead to more optimal solutions, more quickly. The tools for Design thinking become powerful catalysts, engaging individuals in a “maker mentality,” or a tactical, immersive learning process resulting in quicker solutions and a higher level of engagement.

Robert Mandeya is a an executive coach in human capital development and corporate education, a certified life coach in leadership and professional development at the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on lead.inst.dev@gmail.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com.

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