Did you know that, according to Gallup, 87% of employees worldwide are unengaged in their work? This leaves only 13% who are committed to their jobs and more likely to be making positive contributions compared to their unengaged co-workers. Without engaged employees, companies struggle to succeed. Innovation and creativity have been identified as essential to organizational success, so why is the majority of the workforce so tuned out?
Monica Kang, the Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, started asking this question after finding herself frustrated and unmotivated despite loving her work. In the midst of a successful career in nuclear nonproliferation and international affairs, Kang felt “stuck in a job that I love(d).” For her, it was all tied to creativity – not creativity in the sense of picking up a paintbrush and creating a masterpiece, but a true creative mindset. Which, according to Kang, is understanding how you can bring out the best version of yourself, understanding where is a good fit for you, and, also, having an understanding of the things that you can be most helpful with regardless of your official job title.
“Creative” has often been used as a way of labeling certain people within a team. The writer or designer is ‘The Creative’. The problem with this structure, Kang says, is that it has become a situation where all of the people who aren’t ‘The Creative’ are told overtly or subliminally that they aren’t supposed to, or even allowed to, think creatively. But there is a direct relationship between employee engagement and creativity – creative employees are more engaged, and engaged employees are more creative. So stripping employees of the ability to think creatively, or simply not fostering it, can, Kang says, have a very negative impact on employee engagement, productivity, efficacy, and, eventually, on company profitability. At the same time, increased creativity can result in better teamwork, increased engagement, and greater productivity, which all have a positive impact on profitability.
Kang created InnovatorsBox to help companies become more creative for all, not just ‘The Creatives’, and they achieve this through three methods: community events that provide opportunities for individuals to invest in their personal development, programs with Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and educational institutions, and product. Their first product, SPARK, is a simple deck of cards, but each card includes a prompt or question designed to challenge players to think more creatively and to open their minds to new possibilities.
Through her work with companies, individuals, and developing SPARK, Kang has come up with three ‘must do’s’ for companies that are struggling with engaging their employees and increasing creative thinking.
Kang advocates for the building of creativity through intellectual challenges, both in formal work scenarios where employees are encouraged to bounce around new ideas, as well as through consciously-curated experiences, like taking 20 minutes a week to talk about concepts that are not directly related to work, or to play something like SPARK as a team.
It is crucial, Kang says, for leaders to think about the ways in which they are supporting their employees in thinking creatively. People should be given space in which to try new things without fear of being reprimanded for breaking out of the box. These spaces should be well-defined, so that employees aren’t dissuaded by the possibility of negative repercussions, and should become a core piece of the institutional model of the organization, not just one-off occurrences.
Finally, Kang is emphatic that leaders within organizations must model the behavior they want to see. If they want their employees to be more engaged, they need to be more engaged. If they want to institute better communication systems to open up the opportunities for collaboration, they need to actually follow the guidelines that they put in place. Why, Kang asks, would an employee change the ways in which they are working, if the manager who is telling them to doesn’t do so as well?
Overall, Kang is clear: fostering creative thinking in the workplace increases employee engagement and sets teams on a path towards success. But, she adds, it isn’t a one-day-a-year project. The creation and support of more creative mentalities needs to be embraced and internalized by institutions, whether they are small businesses or massive corporations, for the true impact to be felt.