5 Misconceptions about Creativity in the Workplace

Keith Krach
December 30, 2016

With constant innovation and dynamic change now the norm in America’s workplace, most businesses consider creativity a valuable trait in an employee. Creative workers are enthusiastic about learning and can help companies discover new ways to grow and improve. However, lingering outdated beliefs, including the following five misconceptions, exist about the role of creativity at work:

1. Creativity and business are an awkward, nontraditional fit.

Though some may find the idea of emphasizing creativity in the workplace to be unconventional, the effects of creative work have always been a driving force behind successful businesses. The difference today is that the digital age has finally brought the relevance and usefulness of creativity at work to the direct attention of management.

Although creative work has been historically difficult to quantify and its effects typically take longer to observe than other types of work, its presence enables companies to problem-solve, improve processes, and increase overall productivity. Some studies even show that businesses that encourage and cultivate creative thinking have greater market share and revenue growth, along with more effective leaders, than their non-creative competitors.

2. Leadership teams are the only groups that need to be creative.

Having creative leaders in place throughout the hierarchy of an organization is a strategic benefit, but not for the reasons one might expect. The businesses that most effectively leverage creativity to develop innovative products and services are those that encourage creativity throughout the ranks of a company.

While creative higher-ups are a natural source of innovative ideas, they also play a key role in encouraging the open exchange of ideas among their own teams. Encouraging employees to embrace creativity at all levels of an organization can offer fresh perspectives and supplement the ideas provided by leadership for a more effective approach to solving problems.

3. One can amplify creative output with monetary incentives.

Employee motivation is a crucial component of good business. However, a variety of things motivate employees. One common mistake that leaders make with regard to inspiring creativity within their staff is to assume that they can amplify creative output by offering monetary incentives. In fact, leaders who maintain this mindset often find that offering bonuses or pay plans based on performance has a tendency to promote risk-averse behavior as workers carefully consider every move they make and focus their attention on avoiding mistakes instead of producing original work.

Research shows that employees motivated largely by their own job satisfaction are the ones who typically produce the best creative work. Therefore, business leaders would be better off making sure staff members are well-suited to their individual positions and verifying that they genuinely find gratification in the tasks they undertake, rather than relying on pay-for-performance initiatives to spark innovation.

  1. Creativity and collaboration are mutually exclusive.

The idea that creative work requires solitude is an old and outdated one. When people hear the word “creative,” they usually picture a single person diligently working on a project by him or herself. In reality, collaboration can play a valuable role in workplace creativity under the right circumstances.

Past psychological studies have shown that the mere presence of other workers engaged in the same task can have a positive impact on workers’ performance levels. Additionally, history has shown us that some of the greatest artists and innovators of all time were supported by teams of dedicated people who collaborated on their efforts—think Michelangelo and Thomas Edison. Leaders who reject the idea of creativity as a collaborative effort may default to encouraging competition among individual creative workers instead. However, this is a bad idea, as competition has a tendency to breed secrecy and limit the exchange of ideas.

5. People can’t develop their creativity.

Arguably the most widespread and damaging of all myths about creativity in the workplace is that creative workers are born, not made. This idea persists in spite of the fact that research shows that determination and hard work have a greater effect on creativity than natural ability does.

While some employees may be intrinsically more comfortable with their capacity to be creative, all employees can develop their creativity to some degree. Leaders can encourage this process by establishing a positive work environment, providing challenging projects, and offering staff members the support that they need to complete good work.

Additionally, companies shouldn’t limit creativity solely to workers in departments like marketing or design. They should encourage it in all departments, including those that are highly technical, like accounting. At its core, creativity is about problem-solving, innovation, and improvement. Finding more effective and impactful ways to conduct work is a move that your company can benefit from on every level.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.