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InfoQ Homepage News How Organisational Culture and Psychological Safety Fosters Our Creativity

How Organisational Culture and Psychological Safety Fosters Our Creativity

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Organisations need to create the right conditions and culture for creativity to flourish so as to stay relevant, compete and thrive for the future. An addiction to burnout and fixation on productivity can stifle creativity. What’s needed, according to Steph South and Priyanka DSouza, is psychological safety, inclusion, experimentation, growth mindsets and allowing thinking time.

Steph South, a global HR business partner, and Priyanka DSouza, a global HR consultant, spoke about fostering creativity and growing our creative muscle at A Day of Organisational Psychological Safety by Aginext.

According to South, creativity and burnout have an inverse relationship:

The more we experience burnout, the less likely we will utilise our creative muscle. That is, more burnout, less creativity.

DSouza mentioned that whilst productivity is important, we need to recognise that with increasing digitisation, uncertainty, and changing customer needs, we need to foster a creative mindset; an environment where one doesn’t feel safe to share ideas, questions and collaborate is unlikely to foster creativity, she said.

The biggest barrier to creativity is the workplace. Organisations need to create the right conditions for creativity to flourish to create a competitive advantage and thrive for the future, South argued.

Collaborating and being with a team can be great for creativity to flow, as South explained:

When you have ideas and discuss these with others, it sparks your brain with creativity. This may spark an idea in someone else, and so on.

InfoQ interviewed Steph South and Priyanka DSouza about fostering creativity.

InfoQ: How are creativity and burnout related?

Priyanka DSouza: Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. You feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and feel unable to meet constant demands. Creativity and burnout are inversely related.

Steph South: In our talk at Aginext, we spoke about the harm burnout and a fixation with productivity can do to creativity. Think about it: computers and digital solutions such as automation can help us to make productivity gains, but computers cannot be creative. Therefore as humans, we need to harness our creativity in order to stay relevant now and in the future.

InfoQ: You started your session at Aginext on psychological safety with a mindfulness practice. Why mindfulness? What can people get out of it?

South: I started with a brief mindfulness practice so that attendees could have a first-hand experience of mindfulness and meditation. The practice was a compassion meditation. When we do compassion meditations, it strengthens and enlarges areas of the brain associated with wellbeing and shrinks the areas associated with suffering.

As a species, humans depend on each other – we need other humans to survive. Therefore, we succeed when we collaborate rather than compete. When humans compete, stress levels increase, the fight or flight mechanisms in the brain activate, we are less innovative, and we are more likely to have a fixed mindset. Conversely, when we collaborate, creativity and innovation are enabled and we are more likely to have a growth mindset. The reward mechanisms in the brain activate.

As today’s work is mainly team-based, we need to collaborate to be effective and solve complex business problems. Mindful compassion practice makes us more effective team members; we are more likely to collaborate and build trust, which is a building block for psychological safety.

InfoQ: What can individuals do to boost creativity?

DSouza: Keep an open mind, deliberately surround yourself with people who have different experiences, cultures and be curious. Taking a walk during a busy day to be present in the moment, reflecting how something can be approached differently, asking "why", soliciting ideas and new ways of approaching problems all boost creativity. At Aginext, we imagined we went to outer space. Letting yourself imagine, without barriers to why you can’t achieve something, and making this a practice are all great ideas to boost creativity.

South: The World Economic Forum (2020) heralded creativity as one of the top 3 skills for the future. We all have the ability to be creative and to boost this skill. As Priyanka says, it’s a practice – a creative practice. Let your mind wander, take a wander yourself. Be curious, find interest in people and things around you. This will allow new connections to build.

Individuals could use design thinking principles in their own creativity boosting practice, for example, by taking two random objects or words and connecting them, or considering how famous/fictional characters would approach a situation or problem, or observing how people in different roles and sectors approach problem solving, and how they get creative. This may furnish your own ideas.

InfoQ: How can we boost creativity in groups or teams?

South: In this everchanging world, we need to help people be more receptive and resilient when it comes to change. Mindfulness can help. Being able to express ourselves freely and creatively can also help. In such an environment, we are more likely to have psychological safety.

At Aginext, we covered some fun group activities for teams to boost creativity that can be done in person or remotely. These include drawing tasks such as everyone drawing their superpower, or having a line on a page and then each individually finishing that line (everyone always draws something different); or tasks using objects such as taking two disconnected items and listing the ways that these items could be used together, or taking one object and finding as many uses for it as possible.

A lot of companies use hackathons nowadays as a way to take an existing problem and then use a diverse group of people to brainstorm possible solutions. The possibilities for group exercises and individual practices are endless.

InfoQ: What have you learned?

DSouza: The value of being fully present in the moment, being aware of where we are, what we are doing and keeping an open mind. This has helped me in not feeling overwhelmed by what I haven’t done or worry about things beyond my control. I feel more resourceful in the knowledge that I can cultivate a creative mindset by practicing easy-to-implement tips, ideas with my team members and also at a personal level.

South: I have found it surprising that many people do not see themselves as creative. However, each and every person that I have encountered overcame this limiting belief through practice. It’s something we can all improve. Personally, I have learned that I can take a step back, take breaks, create more thinking time and moments for myself, and still achieve.

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