How to Help Creative People Thrive at Work

Person being creative at a table

In my own experience with volunteering and my personal endeavours in music and the arts, I’ve been privileged to mix and mingle with many creative types. I’ve also worked with many in my regular dealings with employers and their employees. It’s important to remember that the most efficient teams allow for everyone to feel confident and competent in their roles. Creative types are no different- they just may require different things to work at their best. They need carefully balanced encouragement and collaboration; but not at the expense of their own freedom to choose and innovate.

Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class, was among the first to explore how creativity would effect and in some ways, replace, raw materials as the engine for economic development. A main focus of Florida’s book was the importance of maintaining and supporting a creative workforce. He argued that creative contributions to tech were going to be critical for future economic development and innovation. They develop new and enhanced methods, products, and services. As innovators, they can help companies pave new paths to economic growth and viability.

We have to remember, however, that creative people are found across all sectors. You can probably identify the creative people in your own organization, and they might not all be in ‘design’, or other departments associated with innovation. Organizations work best when they recognize and harness the abilities of creative types across all occupations and roles. The creative-minded employees’ imaginative, curious, and often progressive approaches to work can lead to more efficient and improved ways of doing things even where you least expected it.. They love challenges, and often look at problems from a different perspective than others in the group, and can come up with solutions by combining various existing ideas with a fresh outlook.

That’s not to say that employing creative types comes without the possibility of challenges. Employees that like to experiment and re-hash ideas to determine the best solutions can prove challenging to manage. They may require more space, freedom to experiment, and time to fail. Tomas Chamorro, an expert in personality profiling and people analytics, also suggests that creative people need to work with a diverse group of peers. This includes more analytical, practical thinking co-workers as well as other creative types to bounce ideas off of.

Managing these groups for collaboration may be difficult. We’ve all been there, trying to come to a solution with so many different ideas floating around. Time may drag on, or people may get side-tracked by tedious details of the issue. It’s usually necessary, though, as we all know, to have various perspectives working together. Having various types of thinkers can actually allow for team engagement and remind people to keep on track with goals. As well, it’s crucial to allow for processes that involve more than one approach to the solution. This allows creative types (and really, everyone!) to see their own ‘blind spots’ in their thinking. Even though it might seem easier to manage, don’t silo the creative types and expect them to see all pieces of the puzzle.

Everyone needs to feel empowered and encouraged at work. In her notable article, How to Kill Creativity, Teresa Amabiles examines creativity and the work environment. She points to the important roles managers have in putting the right people in the the right jobs, providing them with challenges, encouragement, and the freedom to choose. This can be a fine balance of freedom and direction. Amabiles cautions against mismanaging ‘freedom’ by changing goals frequently, or by granting autonomy in name only.

The point of managing should be to set employees up to do their best work – and feel good doing it! Empowering creative types with adequate challenges, group collaboration, freedom, and time are all part of providing an environment where they can work well.  Learning to balance teamwork and independence are crucial. As well, don’t forget to praise [all] employees when they do amazing work!