How to Foster Creativity in the Workplace – Part 1

What is the difference between creativity and innovation? Creativity researchers define Innovation involving two stages—the generation of new ideas and the implementation of the ideas. Whist Creativity is considered to be the first stage of innovation – the ability to create new things.

In my article on Thinking About Creativity, I wrote that game-changing business strategies are born of creative thinking, and it is one of the most sought after soft skill in 2020 according to LinkedIn Learning.

So how we do we foster creativity in the workplace? Is there some formula, or is it rocket science? Well, I think it’s both an art and a science, there’s no cut-and-paste formula but there are two critical foundations to start right.

In this article, I’ll touch on the first foundation – Create an Optimal Physical Space

Many research studies have found significant effects of physical environment features on creative thinking process and productivity. That much is obvious. We have read and seen many companies with cool-looking office space (see The World’s 10 Most Beautiful Office 2019 by Inc), but physical beauty is just skin-deep, or is it?

The physical environment consists of workplace design, indoor temperature, lighting and ventilation, colour, noise and also interior plants. The key is taking all these elements together and design an optimal space that allows employees To Think, To Connect and To Play.

A Place to Think

If people need uninterrupted time to focus, to dream, to come up with ideas, distractions are costly. Some of the biggest workplace distractions cited include – a co-worker talking loudly on the phone, co-workers talking nearby, phone rings or alert, nearby group meetings, nearby table games, heating or air conditioning system, (too hot or too cold), uncomfortable furniture etc.

We all know of forward-looking companies like Google, Facebook, and Airbnb who are the frontiers of open office concepts balancing “we space” and “me space”. To create spaces for employees to think, we’ve seen companies placing pods (contemporary lounge chairs with a convertible room for privacy), incorporating meditation rooms, installing soundproof architectural walls, reconfigure room-for-one, to name a few.

A Place to Connect

The primary goal of the open-plan concept office space is to inspire collaboration and communication. Open-plan offices first appeared in the 1960s and became all the rage in the late 20th century but soon criticisms followed. In one research study, face-to-face interactions dropped by roughly 70% after the firms transitioned to open offices, while electronic interactions increased to compensate. So is open-plan concept office a failure? It’s still an ongoing debate.

The fact remains that humans need to connect. A large number of empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results – one of them being more fresh ideas. This led to companies designing strategic communal spaces to “move” employees or get employees to “collide” such as areas people can get food and drinks.

Google has this “150 feet from food” rule where no part of the office is more than “150 feet from food”. Google places restaurant, coffee lounge or cafeteria, employees to enable “casual collision”  to spark unexpected conversations and generate new, inspiring ideas.

A Place to Play

Many organisations view play as the opposite of productive work and see playfulness, therefore, as something to be managed, minimized, and controlled. However, research has shown that fun breeds creativity (the reason behind The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) methodology). We’ve seen tech-based companies taking the lead and more companies from other industries following suit introducing adult toys such as ping pong tables, dart boards, rock-climbing walls etc. into their office space.

Engaging in play opens up new neural connections in the brain, leading to greater creativity. Making the office a fun place to work can also improve things like employee retention and branding.

I certainly hope to see more non-tech companies jump on the bandwagon to create a fun workplace. Question is – what’s stopping them?


Clearly, not every company has the budget to reconfigure their workspace like the MNCs, but that’s where creative thinking comes in – think about how to repurpose your workspace that allows employees To Think, To Connect and To Play. Join me in my next Creativity Workshop and learn the different techniques and tools to unlock your creativity.

Keep a lookout for Part 2 of this article – Create an Optimal Mind Space in the Workplace.