Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Workplace via TedTalks

October 13, 2017

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Many of you, presumably, don’t have the time to sit around and comb through TedTalks, vehemently searching for inspiration.

But those of you who don’t have the time to stimulate your creative juices are probably the ones who need this advice the most.

Whether or not you consider yourself a “creative” person, or a person in a “creative” role, I guarantee you’ll benefit from the advice I gathered from these TedTalks, because creativity is just another word for innovation, and innovation is something everyone–and every business–can use to reach higher levels of success.

Shawn Achor: “The Happy Secret to Better Work”

If you’ve got the time, I highly suggest you watch the whole vid, since Shawn is just a funny, intelligent, charismatic speaker. But if you don’t, let me break it down: essentially, Shawn says that we have the formula for success and happiness backwards. We believe that if we’re successful, happiness will follow.

He argues that actually, the happier we are, the more likely success is to follow.

They found that 75% of job successes can be predicted by optimism levels, social support, and a person’s ability to see stress as a challenge, not a threat. Basically, if you’re happy, then your brain experiences a “happiness advantage,” which allows it to perform slightly better than negative, or even neutral. Shawn says, “Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral, or stressed. You’re 37% better at sales. Doctors are 19% faster, more accurate… Dopamine, which floods into your system when you’re positive… turns on all the learning centers in your brain, allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.”

Ever walk into work really happy in the morning–maybe because you managed to avoid Boston traffic, or the Pumpkin Spiced latte is back at Starbucks, or maybe just because you woke up happy–only to realize, two hours later, that you managed to complete more tasks than you had all week?

It’s not a coincidence.

Shawn’s take-away tips for achieving happiness in the workplace (none of them require you to quit and find a new job, or take a month’s vacation, so no excuses!):

  1. Every day for 21 days, write down three things you’re grateful for–at the end of 21 days, your brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world not for the negative, but for the positive first.
  2. Journal about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24-hours (it allows your brain to relive it).
  3. Exercise (it teaches your brain that behavior matters).
  4. Meditation (allows your brain to get over ‘cultural ADHD’ to focus on the task at hand).
  5. Random acts of kindness–open up your inbox and write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in your support network.

Elizabeth Gilbert: “Your Elusive Creative Genius”

I might be a bit biased (I loved Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love, so much, I ended up moving alone to Thailand to re-create her journey…), but I think Liz is a master at creativity. In this talk, she begins by bemoaning our current individualistic approach to creativity: “[After the Renaissance], you start to hear people referring to this or that artist as being a genius, rather than having a genius… and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.”

Granted, feeling the pressure of posting the perfect infographic for your company’s product is probably a little different than the pressure Picasso felt, but the concept is, essentially, the same.

Liz continues with a few different examples before landing on a contemporary one: She tells a story of a time she interviewed musician Tom Waits, and he told her that for most of his life, he felt tormented trying to control and dominate his creative impulses. And then one day, he was driving on the highway when he heard a little melody–inspiration for a new song–but he didn’t have a recorder on him. At first, he began panicking, thinking, I’m going to forget this idea forever. But then, instead, he looked up at the sky and said, “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? If you want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment. Otherwise, go bother somebody else.”

Essentially, Liz argues that creativity does not have to be “tormented” silently and internally; it does not have to be your responsibility, and your burden, alone. It can be, instead, a kind of collaboration with the universe.

Elizabeth’s take-away tips for conquering frustration at your lack of creativity in a given moment: 

Elizabeth had a moment when she was writing when she spoke out loud to the room, relieving herself of the guilt she felt for not feeling inspired that day. This is what she said: “Listen you, thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that is not entirely my fault, right? Because you can see that I am putting everything I have into this, I don’t have any more than this. If you want it to be better, you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal. But if you don’t do that, you know what, the hell with it. I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job. And I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.” Essentially, I think we can all benefit from this I-did-my-part attitude, when it comes to inspiration.

Linda Hill: “How to Manage for Collective Creativity”

Linda’s advice is geared more towards leaders and higher-ups in organizations, but ideally, we can all push for these creative changes to occur in our work environments. After studying innovative organizations, like Pixar, Linda concludes, “[Innovative organizations] don’t compromise. They don’t let one group or one individual dominate… Instead, they have developed a rather patient and more inclusive decision-making process that allows for both/and solutions to arise, and not simply either/or solutions.”

Like Elizabeth Gilbert, she does not believe creative genius should be an individual’s responsibility; unlike Liz, Linda says it’s about “collective genius” (I guess she’s leaving the universe out of it). Essentially, she says organizations need to unleash the talents of many. She calls innovation “collaborative problem solving,” and urges this to be done among diverse people with different talents and different opinions.

Linda says she found that the most innovative organizations have three things in common: creative abrasion, creative agility, and creative resolution. Although she goes in-depth regarding each of these, I can basically sum it up by saying that innovative organizations amplify and celebrate differences among colleagues, have heated debates where people know to advocate for their opinions, and run experiments to find out through action whether their ideas work.

Linda’s take-away tips for increasing innovation in an organization:

Linda explains that innovation can only happen with good leadership: “Our role as leaders is to set the stage, not perform on it… Our task is to create the space where everybody’s slices of genius can be unleashed and harnessed, and turned into works of collective genius.” Essentially, a person needs to feel comfortable voicing an opposing opinion against anyone else in the business, regardless of position level. Linda gives an example of an animator at Pixar who felt comfortable sharing his perspective on a character he was drawing with the director, and after a few weeks, the director took the animator’s idea and re-conceived his whole notion of the character. Together, they made it better.

Steven Johnson: “Where Good Ideas Come From”

This last guy on my list, Steven, is a man after my own heart. In his talk, he focuses on the problem of coming up with good ideas (a problem I have… daily), and proposes a solution that I think can be helpful for your business.

He explains that many people have this notion that the greatest ideas stem from smart individuals who have “eureka” moments. But a few years ago, a researcher named Kevin Dunbar put this to the test and found that actually, an organization’s best ideas typically happened around the conference table, when everyone gets together and shares different ideas, mistakes they’ve made, various interests–and bounces these ideas off each other (similar to Linda’s “collective genius,” I guess). Steven calls this “liquid network.”

Steven’s take-away tips for increasing good ideas in a business: 

Steven says that “chance favors the connected mind.” He urges companies to create collaborative environments in which people can bring half their ideas, and connect them with another person’s half. He also says that we spend too much time protecting intellectual property, and that it would be wise of us to instead value the premise of connecting our ideas and allowing them to, essentially, become greater than the sum of their parts.

Need more career advice? Check out our other posts.