Which are the real levers for the creative grail?

By Emmanuel Mercier, Project Manager for BICG in the French-speaking market – October 2019

Large group of creative people working on different things in the office.
The view is through glass.

Wellness and Creativity

In the era of digital revolution and the start-up nation, innovation has become a challenge for the success of those organizations that don’t want to be uberised by a fast evolution of their business sector. Therefore, the creativity of employees is increasingly becoming a strategic imperative.

As stated in a previous post,https://issuu.com/ergonoma/docs/ergonoma-journal-n-57/62 workspaces can foster this creativity of employees if they are accompanied by an evolution of the cultural framework, habits and relationships between individuals. And we will see what are the other fundamental levers in order to achieve the creative grail.

Well-being can thus be considered in its most basic dimension, as a psychological framework in which people evolve. At this level, the development of neuroscience gives us new elements of understanding that often confirm intuitions that we had but that are difficult to justify in empirical terms.

2. What cognitive neuroscience tells us

Cognitive neuroscience studies the biological processes that underlie creative behaviour. According to various studies in this scientific field, stress affects the cognitive behaviour of individuals, which means that a concerned brain doesn’t function in the same way as when it is relaxed. This reduces memory capacity and slows down the decision-making process, because the ability to generate new solutions and the creativity needed to solve problems are inhibited.

In the United States, stress and mental illness generate an annual cost of $230 million each year for organizations.

This negative stress, caused by excessive pressure or the multiplication of simultaneous tasks, can lead to modern illness, burnout and/or periods of depression among employees, in addition to a substantial loss of productivity for organizations. However, a supportive, stimulating work environment can motivate the individual, stimulate his or her brain capacities, and thus improve attention and concentration as well as the ability to memorize and make connections between apparently distinct knowledge, but which can lead to innovation when creatively linked. To be creative, we must therefore be able to combine concepts that we already know but in an innovative way.

Creativity is associative memory that works exceptionally well” Sarnoff A. Mednick, psychologist

If creativity is the ability to generate new ideas, it’s easy to imagine that negative stress, due to an overload of work, deadlines too short or a culture of results pushed to the extreme, doesn’t allow one to free one’s cognitive capacities to approach a problem from a new angle and therefore with new solutions. Managerial culture, and therefore organizational culture, has a direct role to play in unleashing the creative capacities of individuals. It’s not enough for companies to hire creative profiles, but to free them by providing them with a framework conducive to intellectual stimulation.

From an individual point of view, we can learn to generate ideas when we’re able to identify and regulate our emotions. This creative process goes through several stages that aren’t necessarily sequential and can follow a distinct order, according to Estanislao Bachrach, Professor of Innovation and Leadership at the Ramon Llull-Blanquerna University in Barcelona.

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a. Preparation: submersion in the given problem.

b. Incubation: certainly, the most creative stage during which ideas begin to stir in the different sectors of consciousness without being studied under the prism of logic.

c. Evaluation: Is the idea really relevant?

d. Elaboration: phase of maturation of the idea, of persuasion of others, requiring to leave one’s comfort zone by exposing and confronting the idea that has just been born to the real world.

It is easy to see the need for a reduction in stress, which workspaces can partly help. But how can we create a context that is really conducive to the creativity of professionals in companies?

The culture of the organization makes it possible to respond to this challenge: the management model must evolve towards a negotiation of mixed, individual and collective, qualitative and quantitative objectives, for which the employee will have been able to establish priorities and a roadmap with the manager. In this context, it’s easier to focus on the objectives resulting from this compromise, without being dispersed, with a clear awareness of the activities to be carried out. It’s then possible to focus calmly on each of them, to use their memory to the maximum of their capacities, and to make decisions or generate new solutions.

The balance between professional and personal life is also an issue of well-being at work that promotes creativity. Leaving your problems at home and knowing that you will have time to solve them increases your ability to concentrate and frees the brain from external constraints on the subject you’re trying to answer with new ideas. Physical activity is another very powerful lever to promote creativity: dynamic collaborative modes, active rather than passive meetings such as the development of walking meetings, or creative rooms with flexible furniture and diversified ideation tools, are all concepts that stimulate the brain and generate ideas.

Cognitive neuroscience explains that oxygenation of the brain promotes the development of different executive skills such as attention, concentration and decision-making. A first answer would therefore lie in the activity, the movement, for which the working environment can help by laying the foundations for a favourable context, but for which the organisation’s culture must be compatible.

Since the brain is not designed to handle several tasks at once, it hasn’t evolved as quickly as technology has, and the attention captured by all the applications and the cognitive distractions they generate are the worst enemies of creativity. To fight them, taking breaks, cutting off the overactivity in progress, getting up to oxygenate the brain, are possible solutions. But to set them up, a culture conducive to these movements must be put in place, and the New Ways of Working make it possible to develop the cultural framework of organizations in this direction.

Upcoming posts to better understand the levers that can unleash creativity at work:

2. What internal procedures and technology should promote

3-The role of human resources

4. An integral approach is essential

Emmanuel Mercier is a sociologist and communication expert, working as a project manager ( Bicg the Business Innovation Consulting Group.)