Admit it. When do you get your best ideas? When you're sitting at your desk striving for an answer, or when you're doing something off-task like driving, walking, or puttering around the house?
On the surface, daydreaming seems like the antithesis of "work," yet it's truly at the core of our most important type of productivity--creative problem-solving. That's why some of the most innovative companies in the world feature programs that give key employees the time and space to think creatively, i.e. daydream--Google offers a 20% program, 3M has a 15% program, and Gore & Associates (Gore-Tex, etc.) features "dabble time." All three companies credit these programs as the source of their most successful products.
While many of us can see the relationship between daydreaming and creativity in the arts and even science, we've been slower to come around to its usefulness in business. Say the word "visionary" however, and we understand how having a vision--a mental image or plan--can help someone start a breakthrough company or service.
Yes, I know. All the work and focus must follow to have an idea come to fruition. But the original idea and the motivation to fulfill that idea are birthed in a daydreaming state, and we do our most creative problem-solving when the mind wanders. While daydreaming, we can:
1) Envision-model and simulate in our mind's eye
2) Think uncensored thoughts-necessary for originality
3) Free associate-make random connections and come up with novel solutions
4) Tap into the most complex regions of the brain
Why Encourage Creativity at Work?
The new economy demands it. Global competition and the fast pace of technological change have left many of us scrambling. In addition, we've become much more of a thought-based economy than a widget-based one, and such an economy has a voracious appetite for ideas and innovation.
In addition, no one can rest on his or her laurels anymore. It used to be people apprenticed their way up the ladder, eventually becoming the wise elder of their trade. Now we all have to scramble just to stay relevant. Those who actually want to be ahead of the curve are going to have to be visionary. Those businesses or individuals lost only in the tunnel vision of task will be left behind.
Encouraging creativity is also good for attracting and retaining quality employees, always an issue even in this bad economy. Encouraging your employees to think creatively also helps to ensure that ideas stay under your roof, instead of having them take their ideas somewhere else or start a competing business.
How to Spark Creativity at Work
• Tell people you want their ideas then give them some amount of time and space to think creatively (i.e. daydream!). Instead of fearing that you're losing an employee's clocked-in time to creative thinking, look at it from another angle--you are gaining much wider access to a person's creative energies by encouraging them to explore ideas whenever the inspiration strikes, which is often outside of prescribed work hours. Offering up as little as thirty minutes of work time a week for exploratory thought could send the message that creativity is valued, no matter when, where, or how ideas are conceived.
• Ask "what if" questions and encourage speculative thinking.
• Accept risk and a certain amount of failure. I believe it was Edison who said "to have one good idea, have a lot of them."
• Provide a forum for idea sharing and give feedback.
• Get rid of your old-school ideas about daydreaming, and start doing it. Go ahead--I'm giving you permission. Among the many benefits of daydreaming-it's fun, and we can all use some of that.
© Amy Fries
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