As designers, the question people often ask us is, where do you get your ideas from? How do you deliver an original design every time? The short answer is that creativity takes work but it also takes collaboration and communication. 

In this article, we’ll explore what defines creativity and discuss how to look after a quality that isn’t just esoteric but also the foundation for a global agency. We’ll look at how to stimulate and encourage creativity in your team, no matter what kind of sector you’re in, and what steps you should take if you feel creativity is beginning to stagnate.

Search for quotes about creativity and you’ll unearth a veritable treasure trove of takes from philosophers and artists to business leaders and motivational speakers. Maya Angelou, for example, once surmised that “You can’t use up creativity” because “the more you use, the more you have”. In many ways, this is true, but in an organizational sense, where being creative is quite literally your responsibility, the daily grind – those tasks incumbent on every team member day in, day out – can erode creativity. The collective energy and enthusiasm needed to conceive and deliver bold, innovative ideas aren’t automatically topped up each morning. 

What is creativity?

Creativity is intangible. We have a general understanding of what it entails and how important it is in generating ideas. But pinning down what it is or exactly how it works is harder to do. Arne Dietrich, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and author of How Creativity Happens in the Brain, posits that creativity can be divided into three distinct types: a deliberate mode, a spontaneous mode, and a flow mode.

In the deliberate mode, creative ideas come about through “deliberate iterations of trial and error”, whereas, in the spontaneous mode, they appear suddenly and unintentionally in the mind. In flow mode, “creative behavior comes about through fluid and effortless motion that bypasses consciousness altogether”. This can be experienced when you’re so immersed in and focused on a task that everything else seems to disappear and the process just seems to ‘flow’. 

This mix of creative modes plays out every day in a design agency like ours, with each type bringing its own value and relying on different internal and external factors. We’re not neuroscientists but we believe there are a number of approaches agencies can take to best set the scene for creativity, in all its forms, to thrive. In a time where the hybrid working model dominates, it’s never been more important to consider whether your efforts to inspire creativity are covering all the bases. 

Creativity and hybrid working

The tentative return to the studio, post-lockdown, has begun. Many businesses are adopting a hybrid approach, allowing their team to have a mixture of remote and office workdays. In an agency environment, creativity and innovation have traditionally flourished amongst team members standing around whiteboards or tables full of striking photography or bold typography. Certainly, the right environment is still advantageous for creative organizations. If you have a physical space, it should be specially designed to foster collaboration and creativity. At our agency, offices can be found in historic or architecturally striking buildings with internal spaces that shift and change. From big break-out rooms with whiteboards for scrawling, to dens and nooks for tasks requiring focus and concentration, we know the impact that environment has on people’s ability to be creative.

With a hybrid model of work (or even a completely remote one) other types of engagement can be drawn on to recreate that sense of oneness, where information flows seamlessly. It can be as simple as a regular newsletter or bulletin, packed with all the latest news, projects, team and client updates, plus shout-outs to individuals for any milestone achievements. Or it could involve filming or live streaming town hall events so that people can attend both in-person and remotely. As long as information and ideas are flowing, creativity will be, too. 

Fun and creativity

All work and no play, as they say, makes for a dull agency (we edited that last bit). It sounds trite but making time for fun that’s unrelated to work output tends to our childlike desire to be free. Often, when people are struggling with a creative block, it’s because they’ve been overfocused on something. Ever have one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments? Did it happen at your desk or while you were taking part in something fun and low-pressure? 

Our ‘Culture Club’ team plans events designed to tap into people’s playful nature and desire for connectedness; things like pumpkin carving competitions, virtual quizzes, cookie exchanges and simply cracking open a post-work beer. Far from being frivolous, these moments of levity and togetherness are essential. In an article in Forbes, career writer Tracy Brower wrote, “The distance between ha-ha and ah-ha is short”. Encouraging playfulness and creativity in non-work-related endeavors lets people shift their focus and allows the mind time to wander. 

Choices and control

Regardless of your team’s working arrangements, there are also some top-line principles that affect creativity in general. For example, the clients you choose to work with. It is difficult to keep the creative flame burning with a churn of clients who may pay well but whose purpose doesn’t inspire. Choosing to work with brands who are fanatical about what they do and how their customers feel, who have great values that make you want to go above and beyond, is one of the best things you can do to give your team that creative buzz. 

Less tangible but still incredibly important is bureaucracy (the removal of, not the implementation). There is nothing that kills creativity more than excessive red tape or hierarchical rigidity. In an environment where people are anxious to share an idea because they’re ‘too junior’ or because it would require the completion of exhausting bureaucratic processes, creativity is likely to be more of a trickle than a flow. Creativity leads to innovation, which is what influences agency success. If people aren’t given enough freedom and autonomy, both of these things can dry up! 

Ultimately, keeping creativity alive and kicking requires a multifaceted approach that makes room for and encourages all types of creativity, whether deliberate, spontaneous, or flowing. Key to this are collaboration, communication, and – to risk a third ‘c’ – a sense of community, where ideas can flow, unbridled by bureaucratic hurdles or hierarchical pressure. Whether office-based, remote, or ‘hybrid’, those that understand the value of creativity, in all its esotericism, will ultimately be the most innovative. 

Cover image source: Dstudio Bcn