Leaders must make more time for creativity

You don't need to devote a ton of time to being more creative every day

Even if your schedule is jam-packed, it's important to carve out time to foster creativity in the workplace, Emma Seppala writes for Harvard Business Review

Research shows that business leaders know creativity is valuable. An IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs representing 33 industries and 60 countries found that creativity is the most important quality they look for when hiring.

But it can be hard for leaders to act on that principle and make time to be creative in their own work lives. Seppala spoke to several leaders from a range of industries to learn how they keep their creative juices flowing on a daily basis:

Leave your comfort zone

Being in an environment unfamiliar to you can be the catalyst for innovation—it's just a matter of stepping outside your comfort zone. When employees at Google were stuck on a project, Lars Bastholm, the company's global CCO, would send them out to purchase three magazines on topics they knew nothing about. Bastholm would ask the employees to reframe their assignments with a new target audience in mind. They not only got a fresh perspective on the project, but also had fun flipping through magazines about monster trucks and orthodontics.

Simon Mulcahy, interim CMO at Salesforce, suggests practicing "flipping the binoculars around." For example, a bank trying to boost customer loyalty could look to a company in a totally different industry, like Starbucks, for inspiration.

Seek criticism

A diverse range of perspectives, including from people outside your industry, can help you view challenges in a new way.

"When I have a promising business idea, I literally share it with every smart person I encounter who has any interest in it," says Heleo CEO and founder Rufus Griscom. "This results in introductions and new information, and it increases the likelihood that the idea will one day turn into a business."

Take a break

To unleash your creativity, you need space to allow your ideas to take shape. Many leaders choose to meditate for this reason.

"I meditate so that I can let go of existing thoughts and patterns in my mind and make space for new ones," says Terykson Fernando, creative director at Sattva. "To me, creativity is all about letting things well up from within."

But there are plenty of other ways to let your mind wander if meditation isn't your style. Try taking a walk or engaging in some routine physical activity, like cleaning or hopping on an elliptical machine.

Set arbitrary rules

It may seem counterintuitive to impose constraints while trying to nurture creativity, but setting limits can actually grease the wheels of free thinking. Hannah Jones, chief sustainability officer and vice president of the Innovation Accelerator at Nike, gives her team challenging constraints that force employees to push the boundaries of what they think is possible. The method has paid off: The Nike Flyknit shoe delivered on its goal of promoting athletic performance while cutting 60% of production waste (Seppala, Harvard Business Review, 9/14). 

Find small ways to be more creative each day

Make time to nourish your creativity

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