How creativity can boost productivity and happiness

By Nathan Baird

Without creativity there are no ideas, and without ideas, organisations and the people within them will stagnate and neither will reach any sort of fulfillment. This is really important. We spend so much of our lives at work, so we want work to be as fulfilling as possible. Creativity plays a key role in providing this meaning and fulfillment. And it goes without saying that we need creativity right now to design and innovate our way out of COVID-19 and stagnation.

We also know from the author of Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, that human beings are at their happiest (in flow, or ‘the zone’) when they are creating. People long to express their creativity, and when we can’t we’re more likely to feel disengaged, become unproductive, and even feel depressed.

So how do you unleash your team’s creativity to be in flow more often and increase engagement, productivity, ideas, and happiness? What helps is recognising the key blockers to creativity and how to overcome them! Four of the biggest blockers to individual and team creativity are behaviours, the brain, state, and space. Let’s take a look in more detail.

Creativity Blocker 1: Behaviours

Our everyday business behaviour is not conducive to creativity. It’s been refined over the years to help us in a fast-paced world where swift analysis and making fast decisions based on sound evidence is king. It involves elements of criticism and relies on critical reasoning skills when we are assessing one idea or recommendation versus another. It’s not that this approach is wrong, it’s just not right for creativity.

In the early stages of the creative process, ideas are still just seedlings and aren’t ready for judging. We need to build on them further before we can confidently judge which are the good and bad ideas.

So when you are working in the creative phase you need to ask everyone to suspend their typical business-world behaviours and take these steps to promote creativity:

  1. suspend your judgement, so you can then
  2. understand each other’s ideas in order to
  3. build on each other’s ideas to come up with more breakthrough solutions.

Creativity Blocker 2: The Brain

Most of us naturally think in a linear and analytical way. This is because the brain is a massive self-organising storage device, like all the folders on your desktop or shared drive. It’s a place where logic presides.

So when you ask your brain to think of an idea, say a new type of taxi service, then it immediately goes into its file on taxis. And what does it find in there? All the experiences you’ve had with regard to taxis. And none of it is new thinking.

What you have to do is ‘trick’ your brain to go to a different file and find some different stimulus to inspire new ideas. For example, you could come up with new ideas by ‘breaking the rules’ and challenge the status quo of the taxi industry. One ‘rule’ for the taxi industry was that you had to wait outside your location until the taxi arrived. Uber broke this rule through the development of an ETA tracking device on its app. Right now we are having to break the rules of working, collaboration, distributing our goods and services, and in some cases even our entire business models.

Creativity Blocker 3: State

If your state feels stuck, then ideas are impossible. Right now during COVID-19 how we are feeling emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually is very important. Some of us are actually feeling more in flow working from home, whilst others are not due to lockdown, lack of socialisation, face-to-face collaboration, and so on.

The key to changing your state is moving. Not only does physical activity promote feel good endorphins it jolts our minds from its customary groove and a walk outdoors can also inject some freshness and stimulate new ideas. We can take this further by being really playful and encouraging self-expression, which really opens up our creative minds giving us access to our own creative genius.

Creativity Blocker 4: Space

One of the biggest triggers to state and our creativity is the environment or space we are in. Many of our workplaces, including our working from home setups, are designed for meetings and getting stuff done rather than being creative. It is important that we have spaces that encourage creativity and collaboration in all our flexi-working environments (both physical and virtual).

A space for creativity is one where you can be yourself, get away from the day-to-day distractions and noise, be inspired and become totally engrossed in the work you are doing. It could be a quiet room in your house or a local café.

Right now creativity is really important. Not only will it help organisations come out of COVID-19 in a better shape; it will boost team’s productivity and happiness.

Nathan Baird is the founder of customer-driven innovation and growth firm Methodry and author of Innovator’s Playbook: How to create great products, services, and experiences that your customers will love! He is one of the world’s leading Design Thinking practitioners, former Partner of Design Thinking for KPMG, and helps teams build their innovation mastery and works alongside them to create new innovations. Visit