We are living in exciting times. New technologies and smart use of data offer a wide variety of opportunities. To gain the most out of them, companies require a constant flux of new ideas. A recent World Economic Forum study among senior HR officers at leading companies confirms the need for employees with creative skills. Creativity is becoming increasingly more important each day.
Are managers fully dependent on the creative individuals within their teams? Or can new ideas also stem from employees who are not that inventive by nature? Would it be possible to stimulate those employees in such a way that you effectively increase the creative potential of your team? These topics were the focus of my research.
Creativity is the act of coming up with new and useful ideas to solve (often complex) problems for which no solution is yet known. Seeing new possibilities can however be quite challenging for most people since we usually are limited by our mental set. The psychological phenomenon of a mental set causes us to be inclined to always approach a problem in the same way, even if that approach does not work. We get stuck in a specific structure of thinking and have difficulty seeing the problem from a different perspective.
Some people are better in defeating their mental set than others. In my research, I looked at two personality types that differ from each other in creativity. On the one hand, there is this group of people with an open personality type. This personality is characterized by continually welcoming new experiences and always wanting to meet new people. The open personality has a flexible mind, can quickly switch between different approaches, and has less difficulty finding solutions to complex problems. There is a good chance that employees with this personality will often be asked to come up with new ideas.
On the other hand, there is a group that is characterized by a need for structure to understand the world and to function in it. My research shows that these people are indeed capable of coming up with creative ideas, but that they approach problems very differently. Instead of a flexible way of thinking, they work systematically. They analyze and frame the problem. Within this frame, they are very persistent in finding solutions. The first ideas may not be entirely original, but in the end, they still come up with new creative solutions.
During my research on the role of leadership in stimulating creativity in the workplace, I made an interesting discovery. The structured and persistent employee benefits from leaders who consciously use empowering behaviors. These behaviors include putting faith in the employees, removing obstacles in terms of time and resources, promoting autonomy in decision-making, and emphasizing the importance of their input. Remarkably enough, this form of leadership seems to turn out negatively for open people. Empowerment is therefore only productive when people actually need it!
Adjusting your leadership behavior is key! Give individuals with open characters complex problems and let them find the solutions on their own. The persistent and structured group needs to be empowered. Express trust and give them sufficient time to frame the problem to come up with new ideas.
Creativity and new ideas are vital in these times of digital transformation. By ensuring you leadership behavior is aligned with the needs of your problem-solving-crew, companies increase their creative potential. By tapping into creativity in all layers of the organization, unexpected and innovative ideas will emerge that enable companies to seize the opportunities that digital opportunities have to offer!