A creative workplace is about more than having a foosball table

Shilen Patel
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Getting creative in the workplace is about more than just placing a foosball table in your break-out area, scattering around some multi-coloured bean bags and cracking open the requisite prosecco on a Friday.

Creativity is a mind-set.

It can’t be turned on and off at the flick of a switch, and so many organisations’ “bumper sticker” approach to creativity could have the opposite effect: stifling it altogether.

Without inspiration, creativity cannot thrive in a work environment. And without creativity… how can organisations continue to innovate, disrupt and succeed?

Business success might be reflected through profit margins and ROIs, but it is built on the solid foundation of good ideas, which can come from anywhere at any level of an organisation.

But for a flat hierarchy to thrive, staff must be given the platform to voice their ideas.

Sharing is caring

The truth is, nobody knows where that virtuoso idea might come from. It’s key to get everyone to share their ideas, no matter their level within an organisation.

The best ideas often come through collaboration – through a flow state which arises from a clash of different ideas, killing those ideas, reviving them, looking at them through a different lens. It boils down to harnessing the knowledge of a group of people with different experiences, skills and passion points.

Eccentric

Encouraging employees to develop their own interests, from learning a new language to creating their own food blog, is a great way to inspire creativity. It’s about veering away from stringent corporate pigeon-holing and stifling people’s eccentricities. If your finance manager loves to write, then let him be a copywriter every once in a while. Why not? He might just be the next Kerouac. After all you probably hired people because of their eccentricities and if you didn’t – you should have!

Breakout

These swanky break-out zones we’re seeing in so many organisations are only great if people use them – so designing your office so that the whole space is dedicated to “creative thinking” is a must. Don’t relegate the break out area to meetings alone. The best ideas can come from just having a different perspective or view.

Spatial awareness

Having employees crammed into pods or desks lined up side by side will not be conducive to creative culture. It will kill it. After all, you spend a pretty big chunk of your life at work, which is why the office should allow people to interact in a more human way. At IU, we designed and even built our hexagonal tables ourselves to encourage people to bounce ideas off each other. It boils down to the shape of desks and the distance between people. After all, culture isn’t built at the ping pong table or at the pub – it is an intricate part of everything you do.

Ownership

What better way to incentivise employees than to give them genuine ownership of the company that they work for and the chance to shape its direction? IU operates on a flat structure where everyone is a co-owner with a vested interest in the performance of the company. It’s an open forum for employees to have a direct say in the kind of company they want to work for.

Since Google first introduced slides at its San Francisco headquarters in 2008, talk of workplace creativity has boomed – and rightly so. But if organisations continue to equate creativity with ping-pong tables and fail to embed it in their ethos – do we risk seeing creativity become a fad?

Shilen Patel is co-founder at innovation agency Independents United.

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