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Understanding your Workforce's Creativity

Human beings have the ability to “create solutions” that ensure their survival

By Lathasha Subban*

The world of work is changing, and employees have to be more adaptable, innovative and creative. It is these elements that drive the competitive edge of a business and its sustainability. Human Resource (HR) also has to evolve to the levels of adaptability, innovation and ‘creativity’, to ensure that the workforce reaches those levels. My curiosity was provoked by the notion of “creativity”. How do I identify or understand the creativity an employee has or how do I develop a “creative” workforce? More importantly, why is creativity required in a business?

“The paradox of this bias against creativity lies in the fact that creativity – along with its close cousin innovation – is frequently celebrated in business as a most desired organizational trait. Reports of management excellence from McKinsey to KPMG state that creativity among the workforce is a basic requirement for long-term business success. Why then does the organizational immune system kick into high gear whenever exposed to the very thing it needs to survive?”


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Creativity in the workplace is a dire requirement because it develops ideas, products, innovation and even behaviour. Employees should be encouraged to tap into their creativity “space” and drive new ways of doing work, creating products and providing services that grow and develop business. In the study by Hsiang-Yung Feng Institute of Economic and Social Studies, Taiwan, “A creative economy is the latest developmental stage in global economic restructuring. Numerous countries and enterprises have emphasized competitive advantage by ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation.” Innovation competition in education has recently become a popular method to elevate student creativity. Education policy makers have emphasised the urgent need to develop “human resources,” particularly to promote creativity, adaptability and enhanced communication. Most scholars investigating creativity and education have focused on the relationship between teaching and creativity or individual student creativity. The creativity domain is a promotional, inhibition supportive creative environment system.”

By unleashing the creativeness within an employee, the company can position itself more competitively and develop innovative products and offerings that increase their market share. But how do we recognise creativity? Is there a particular look that an employee must have or a behaviour or gadget that helps identify creativity? Actually, in his talk on 7 September 2017 at the University of Johannesburg, College of Business and Economics, (HRM Advisory Board Meeting, ‘Industrial Psychology & People Management’) Professor Federico Freschi (Executive Dean of the Faculty of Art and Design) mentioned “that creativity is about survival”.

Human beings have the ability to "create solutions" that ensure their survival. We have seen this through ages of evolution, growth and development of mankind. Business as well needs creativity to ensure its survival and HR needs to understand what drives creativity.

According to James Hewitt (Head of Science & Innovation, Hintsa Performance) in his article “Three Ways to Unleash your Creativity”,1 the three conditions2 that “fashion” creativity are:

1. When we apply and combine old ideas in new ways.

2. When we feel enough pressure and incentive to encourage flexible thinking.

3. When we don’t get too comfortable.

In my personal experience, creativity also thrives in these instances:

• A problem state that requires a solution.

• A Frustrated state that pushes your limits in patience, persistence and achievement.

• A calm state of thinking and development. Where anxiety and stress are eliminated.

• An associated thought or idea that is inspired by another idea.

• Practicing your “passion” like dancing, singing, sport, poetry etc.

Workforce Creativity Report

As HR, we have to understand the creativity triggers within the organisation to drive a creative and innovative culture. HR should:

• Understand the employees’ creative thinking and skills.

• Provide positive platforms that invoke, drive and culminate creative thinking and idea generation.

• Enable thinking with processes that materialise the creativeness in the idea, product etc.

• Drive innovation by encouraging creativity in thought leadership, behaviour and action.

• Create an inclusive approach that involves employees at all levels to escalate their creative ideas.

• Benchmark companies that have utilised creativity as their competitive edge.

• Recognise and encourage different types of creativity existent in the workplace.

• Don’t underestimate the ability of employees to be creative and let them surprise you.

• People will always have the ability and potential to develop creative skills. Encourage it.

In her article, “These are the World’s most Creative Countries”3, Website Editor for the World Economic Forum, Jenny Soffel highlights the top 25 countries on the Global Creativity Index. Her article discusses “The Global Creativity Index, 2015” released by the Martin Prosperity Institute, which talks about the new model of economic development and the 3 Ts – talent, technology and tolerance, ranking all 139 nations on the parameters set by these pillars.

The three dimensions discussed in the report are:

1. Technology – Research & development investment and patents per capita

2. Talent – Share of adults with higher education and workforce in the creative class

3. Tolerance – Treatment of immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, and members of the gay and lesbian community

The study says that in the knowledge economy where consumption and production are based on intellectual capital, the 3Ts and overall creativity are linked closely to economic and social development.”4

Creativity is another way of understanding your workforce. It does not stop at just a company level but escalates to an economic level as well. Creativity is driving the successes of the business by creating ideas, thoughts, intention and action. It is the fundamental skill of human beings who have an inborn competence to be creative. I think the important part is to realise that we all are creative in different aspects but creative nonetheless.

So even if you think you are not the creative type, think again. We are born with it!


Lathasha Subban

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