Why companies must strive to keep creativity flowing
According to research carried out by The Corporate Venturing & Entrepreneurship Community more than a third of companies have reportedly cut their innovation budgets since 2020, and around a third of companies stopped or decreased their collaboration with startups.
But innovation doesn’t have to require deep pockets. We often think about the cost of innovation relating to R&D labs, hiring top scientists, and emerging technology, when really, we need to invest in creating the right environment for innovation to take place. It’s about spending time, not money.
Companies don’t need big budgets, they need a company culture that gives individuals the space to invent and experiment freely. The obstacle, however, is that corporate businesses have long been dominated by hierarchies and bureaucracy that keep employees siloed. They’re also notorious for high-pressured environments – which suffocate the mental health potential of employees.
In under 60 years, 88% of Fortune 500 firms have failed, largely because they haven’t made creativity a priority in their work cultures. Yet creative companies outperform their peers in revenue growth and talent acquisition, which ultimately translates to higher profits. Research also proves that organisations that invest in and value creativity have happier less stressed, and more productive teams.
Creative freedom dissolves mental boundaries and gets employees into a state of flow, where they can build new thought connections and express themselves with less inhibition. It acts as a bridge between humans and the company, by encouraging employees to bring more of their personality and life experiences to finding solutions.
In 2023, creativity is inextricable from innovation, and the companies (regardless of their size and budget) that truly value new ideas and better solutions need to put on their creative hats, and it can be done at no extra cost.
Corporate culture is typically associated with heavy workloads and high stress levels. These environments are propped up by the myth that working long hours is the only path to success, but in reality, this environment only restricts productivity, creativity, interpersonal relationships and well-being. What corporations are fundamentally doing is blocking the release of dopamine in employees’ brains and smothering any possibility for innovation. On top of that, workplace stress costs the UK economy over £28bn each year. Imagine if this money could be reinvested into employee wellness.
Fun is such a powerful tool because it combats fear – it allows people to feel comfortable and tap into the imaginative or fearless parts of their minds. These days, when companies are expected to enable team members at all levels to have a say, being courageous means everyone can join the conversation. The more people can contribute without being conscious of giving the ‘right’ answer, the more original thoughts are put on the table, and obstructions to creativity are slowly dismantled.
If a business wants to encourage innovation, it must generate time for creativity. But creativity is difficult to measure, it’s often sidelined, with businesses instead prioritising direct productivity, further burdening their employees as a result.
Nevertheless, companies that assign moments for employees to be creative have a head start when it comes to innovation. For example, Taco Bell’s creative Director set up a week-long company art show where employees could present their photographs, sculptures and paintings. The event was so popular that the team ran out of space, and some of the artwork was later used to inspire packaging for the food chain’s special anniversary products.
E-commerce brand Etsy hosts a series of employee workshops that include photoshoots, pop-up shops, and crafts sessions, where attendees make meaningful needlework messages for themselves or their communities. The idea is to focus on the ‘maker’ spirit that defines Etsy’s culture and encourage people to explore beyond what is normally expected of their jobs.
When creativity permeates a company, it gives employees a license to experiment and discover those ‘eureka’ moments of clarity. It recognises not only their designated role but their full potential. Getting employees into the rhythm of challenging the status quo puts them in the right frame of mind to keep moving their companies forward with innovative ideas and make ‘eureka’ moments a permanent fixture in business.
For decades, businesses have feared the prospect of employees procrastinating during business hours. Rather than fear it, they should be encouraging it. Creative freedom isn’t mathematical, 0.5 hours of creativity doesn’t equal X results. The most powerful creative periods are those that are unrestrictive, free-flowing, and beyond the scope of an employee’s job title.
Letting employees spend time working on projects outside of their day-to-day responsibilities, a practice known as “daylighting” optimises autonomous learning and boosts morale. It’s what Spotify’s former art director describes as giving people “permission, think simple, change their minds, fail, and not take themselves too seriously.” It’s also why 3M has a policy enabling employees to spend 15% of their time working on their ideas.
When people turn their focus towards alternative projects, they develop new perspectives, diverse experiences, and greater empathy for others beyond their bubbles. For example, a product designer taking time to volunteer with people with disabilities or the elderly could gain a new appreciation for the difficulties they face using everyday technology. Alternatively, a finance officer taking the time to paint or draw could unlock a new appreciation for branding and marketing.
Likewise, this freedom encourages creative modality, where employees can learn to combine supposedly opposing or random elements that make a distinct whole. Pigs in Space is a great example of this – the two concepts have no obvious connection, but together they’re memorable, different and intriguing. To pair ‘irregular’ components in this way, teams need the flexibility to go against the current; they need permission to exit their typical linear style of thinking to take a new direction altogether.
Steve Jobs once said “Creativity is just connecting things,” and it’s also connecting people – to one another, to themselves, and a purpose. Whereas the traditional corporate mindset isolates departments and activities, creative freedom unites and excites teams as they delve into unknown spaces, and that shapes better products and services. It is this value loop that confirms it is well past time to fully embrace creativity.