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Volume 5, Issue 24

A Guide to Boosting Your Team's Creativity

Creativity can be broken into measurable, trainable competencies, writes a behavioral researcher.

We didn't always know that, says Roger Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Epstein describes that, since the 1970s, research has demonstrated that amorphous traits like sales talent, leadership and creativity can be distilled into discrete, teachable skills.

Based on Epstein's research, creative people make four key moves: they deliberately broaden knowledge and skills, capture new ideas without judgement, surround themselves with novel stimuli and seek challenges.

"Of the four, capturing new ideas has the most impact on people's creative output," writes Epstein.

How can managers help team members unlock creativity? To find out, Epstein and his research team conducted a study with 1,337 managers in 19 countries, uncovering eight competencies that spur creativity. To boost collective creativity, managers should:

  1. Challenge subordinates. Give people difficult problems to solve and ambitious goals to reach while also helping them manage stress.
  2. Encourage broadening. Provide people with training in topic areas well outside their current areas of expertise.
  3. Encourage capturing. Inspire team members to preserve their new ideas and provide tools that make it easy for them to capture such ideas.
  4. Manage teams appropriately. Create diverse teams with changing memberships. Use brainstorming and other techniques to maximize creative output.
  5. Model the core competencies of creative expression. Show others that you, as a supervisor, practice one or more of the four core competencies of creative expression listed above.
  6. Provide adequate and appropriate resources. Give the team materials, tools and time adequate for colleagues to solve problems or generate new products or methods.
  7. Provide a diverse and changing work environment. Create an interesting work environment (physically and socially). Alter it periodically.
  8. Provide positive feedback and recognition. Reward team members for contributing new and valuable ideas.

The most important competency, Epstein writes, is No. 6—providing resources. Give team members the space to think creatively, he advises.

Interestingly, writes Epstein, female managers outscored male managers on these competencies.

"Perhaps [this is] because they are more supportive, more willing to listen and more likely to give people the space they need to think," he writes.

This article is from the Advancement Weekly, Dec. 14, 2015 issue.

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