Creativity has been recently cited as the 3rd most important skill that employers will look for when hiring in 2020, behind those needed for complex problem solving and critical thinking. With 2020 being less than 3 years away, what more can we do to encourage creativity in the UK workplace? Do enough of us actually possess the required ‘creativity skills set’ for the future and if not, is it possible to in fact teach creativity?

Let’s start by looking at the UK, where all major cities are now saturated with coworking spaces, which are sold as creative hubs and are seen by some as being necessary for collaboration, fast growth and for the opportunity to be taken seriously as a creative business.

But, are these man made environments just a pretext for occasionally having a game of table tennis or mini golf when visitors come to the office, or are they used as a stress reliever to enhance the creative thinking process? Does a coveted desk in a ‘coworking space’ instantly equal the productive and collaborative environment that the name promises?

After attending the Microsoft #creativityunleashed event this week, I discovered the fine balancing act between people, technology and the environment which needs to be achieved in order to be in a position to cause disruption through creativity.

The 24/7 work culture in the UK, very often featuring constant email deflecting, is hindering the potential that this very advancement in collaborative, workplace technology is trying to create.

The stressed workplace and lack of verbal team communication, in some instances was very surprising to see at my recent visit to a coworking space. I would say, not any more communication than I’ve experienced working in a normal ‘corporate’ office. Was this due to the work time pressure, work overload, or insane work speed and simply employees trying to leave at a reasonable time that evening?

We’re told by the #ceativityunleashed experts that chronic stress is now so prolific that even small triggers are causing the reactions that would only previously be seen in the most stressful of situations. The small start up teams typically situated in such coworking environments may feel the pressure more than most, and this could be one explanation.

The lack of an environmental change at work is stalling creative ideas that could be instantly created with a change of perspective, simply by taking a lunch break outside, for example. We’re told by the expert panel that it can have instant health and work on your return to the office.

The 24/7 work culture is making workers scared to challenge the norm and as a result flat lining the office’s productivity. Sometimes less is more, apparently we’re distracted so much that in an office the average employees’ concentration period is around 3 minutes! No wonder so many people are attempting to take advantage of the flexible working hours and working at home…or quitting altogether and managing their own time freelance.

Why not timeshift? We’re told that working at your most productive time of the day can allow workers to fit the same amount of work into a more concentrated and productive time frame, thus regaining their work life balance.

Another creative expert suggests that by outsourcing to creative agencies, the creativity and overall company vision is beginning to get confused or lost. However, by adding creative members into non ‘creative’ teams, this will mean that this flow of creativity can be seen at all levels of the business.

Whilst they’re being newly introduced to the rest of the team, these creative employees can begin to disrupt the organisation norms and cultures. Perhaps by suggesting creative napping – championed by Thomas Edison, a nap is taken whilst holding an object which will fall to the ground and wake the napper between the state of being awake and asleep. Otherwise known as hypnagogia the most creative brain state.

‘Brainstorming’ we’re told by the expert panel members doesn’t work – can someone inform middle management please?! Instead encourage a debate, keeping all ideas and contributions for future reference. Encourage escapism to virtual worlds through AR/ VR gaming, and return refreshed and relaxed to continue working, but this time in a more efficient and focused way.

Yes, creative talent has been predicted to be a requirement for future jobs. But, how can people acquire this skill, through teaching? Will companies employ a creative tick list to narrow down candidates, is it even possible to codify creativity into a job application?

Most people need to be encouraged to act creatively, after years of working in offices that have zapped away all but a small part of their creativity. With the help of stimuli such as environmental and cultural changes and through using collaborative, tactical technology in the organisation I believe it is possible to grow existing skills in a creative way. I’d suggest that creativity can only be encouraged, not taught.  

Could this be an opportunity for smaller companies/ Start Ups to share their creativity with traditional corporates?

Yes, the process will take time and needs to be introduced slowly by creative pioneers who lead by example and encourage: creative-napping, time-shifting and virtual gaming. Experts warn that once the creative offer is introduced the employers should not expect an instant change in employee behaviour, after all years of addictive 24/7 email checking will be extremely hard to break!

Overall, creativity is enhanced by our environment and the people within that environment. Technology has always been around, but it needs to be seen as an enabler within all teams, not only typically ‘creative’ ones.

New collaborative Microsoft tech with up to 10 points of touch, for ultimate workplace collaboration – yes please!

#Microsoft creativity tools

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Josie Ball

Further reading: British Companies Risk Creativity Crisis