Survey reveals workplace factors that support on-the-job creativity

Other people are the biggest factor that supports creativity, according to a survey conducted by Edward Glassman, Ph.D. This research provides some important clues on how to develop a work environment that supports the efforts of creative people.

Here’s some research that you can also do to help your team’s creativity at work. Ask your people to list the factors that are the biggest help to their creativity at work.

The biggest factor that helps people to be more creative, according to about half of 450 people I have surveyed, is “other people.” Items like time, challenge, and freedom occur at a much lower frequency. Rewards are hardly mentioned. Conspicuously absent are customers and vendors, who usually want to help. One person wrote: “The biggest help to my creativity is when my boss leaves town.” Much food for thought here.

Developing a more supportive environment for creativity

Overall, the majority of people perceive that the biggest boost to their creativity comes from interacting with other people. This provides some important clues on how you can create an environment that is more conducive to creativity:

First, encourage and build in activities so people interact more frequently, exchanging and discussing each other’s ideas in helpful ways. Second, provide training so people help each other’s ideas without stifling creativity. Third, arrange for more team creativity during regular meetings. For example, break into small groups and brainstorm ideas to help solve problems. This will encourage the exchange of ideas.

What else stimulates on-the-job creativity? In addition to “other people,” factors cited by my survey respondents included:

  • More time
  • More freedom
  • Less red tape, paperwork and routine jobs
  • Better resources
  • More respect
  • More recognition for innovation
  • Better communication
  • An atmosphere that encourages originality
  • Fewer meetings
  • Better teamwork
  • Fewer penalties for failure
  • Fewer interruptions
  • A more supportive atmosphere.

As one person wrote, “(The) opportunity to be heard, openness, more participation in selection of assignments, more freedom in selection of approaches, less daily and weekly accounting of activity.”

What blocks on-the-job creativity?

Almost all the comments from the survey respondents included conditions managers usually control: lack of time; lack of freedom; abundance of quick negative criticism; distractions; low encouragement; low acceptance of new ideas; ineffective meetings. Some wrote about cautious management styles; red tape; lack of appreciation; unsuitable rewards. Others blamed limited resources; overload of work; interruptions; demands of others; the need to be productive rather than creative; limited communication; mountains of paperwork. A few people mentioned personal limitations, newness to the job, lack of creativity skills, etc. The good news is that most of these blocks to creativity can be corrected.

If you want to find out what spoils creativity in your team, or how to stimulate creative thought, you need to ask people, either directly or through your own questionnaires, or with consultants who can help the process and ensure successful outcomes.

People with high creative ability will not produce highly creative outputs in stifling climates. Training may help in the development of personal skills to resist a creativity-spoiling job environment, and to immunize people against creativity spoilers. Still, the job climate needs to support creative outcomes. Otherwise motivation declines, and creativity at work dies.

The outcome for a creative person in a non-flexible environment can often be resentment. The creative person can leave the job or reduce their creative output. Often motivation disappears, and the creative person retires on the job, sometimes becoming what I call a “weekend creative.” By channeling creative energies into weekend pursuits, the creative person does poorer on the job than less creative colleagues. This outcome is not beneficial to the team or the company. Address this problem creatively to recapture these weekend energies for on-the-job creativity.

Adapted from Team Creatvity At Work II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best by Edward Glassman. Ph.D. He can be reached at his website, where he encourages readers of to send him your questions about your creativity and the creativity of your team.
©2010 Edward Glassman