Our work environment impacts our creativity

Office Zen

The following is a guest post by Lilian Sohn.

With Content Marketing being the buzz word in 2013, online marketers are struggling more and more to come up with innovative and impressive ideas to promote their clients’ businesses online. Not only should the content be an original and interesting read to their audience, it should also drive traffic to their website and – ideally – go viral. To be able to do so, creativity is gaining a continuously growing importance in digital marketing – but how can we foster this trait that is so much desired by employers, and get our brains “dig deep into the think tank”?

As scientists such as McKinnon from Berkley University have confirmed, creativity is not a given but rather a way of operating and as such, it can be nurtured and enhanced.

In this context, our work environment comes into play. Most of us underestimate the importance not only of our physical environment but also of the atmosphere around us, the general rules coming from the top, the pressure to finish our work in time and of not making a mistake.

So how are we affected by our surroundings at work and how to boost our creativity?

1. Address your physical work space and de-clutter your office. Clutter has the massive ability of dragging us down, generating a feeling of being overwhelmed. So use this opportunity to finally get rid of those scribbled notes, organise your paperwork into folders and put up some photos you like or pictures that inspire you.

2. Whether you work in an open space or have an office of your own: a serene work environment where you feel comfortable in is vital. If you choose a new office, make sure the rooms get as much natural daylight as possible. Plants, pictures and photographs (maybe from a creative photo contest within the team), lamps, artworks, wooden or brightly coloured furniture (e.g. from Plan-It Interiors) as opposed to grey or dark heavy desks are all means to help employees feel at ease and appreciated – the more creative our environment, the more creative we become. It’s that simple. Remember, your company office is also the extension of yourself. And clients will notice.

3. Create a space where people can relax – and, ideally, play and have fun. Art Markman, PhD and professor at the University of Texas, describes that taking productive pauses and actually stepping away from the problem we need to resolve (i.e. coming up with a great idea) will help freeing our creativity. So every 1.5 hours, we should take a quick break and do something totally different. Something we truly enjoy. This could range from creating an office garden (some companies actually do their brainstorming sessions outside or plant living walls), providing inspiring magazines or the possibility to do artwork, offering a yoga class during lunch break to giving access to sports facilities, games and fun resources (videos, books, podcasts,..).

4. Humour in fact is a great way to allow the flow of creative ideas. It frees up tensions and makes room for new thoughts. John Cleese, a member of Monty Python and an extremely creative writer and producer, already suggested more than 30 years ago that humour puts us into the so-called “open mode” where we start being creative – a finding that recent studies confirm: humour allows for play, implies freedom of thought and contradicts norms, logic and frames of references – all basic elements when it comes to being creative.

5. Keep stress levels down to a minimum. When we are stressed, our creative mind shuts down almost completely. Cortisol and other stress hormones, which helped our ancestors in the well-known fight-or-flight situations, are prevailing when we need to meet a tight deadline or when we feel suffocated by our workload. Stress can actually help increase productivity and speed on repetitive (low-thinking) tasks, but it prevents from multiple-faceted thinking and pondering.

6. “Do not disturb”. In order to truly concentrate and come up with something original, we need to dig deep into the problem. Which means: we should not be disturbed. The “high cost of interruptions” has been analysed by Michigan State researchers and has shown that also short interruptions of just a few seconds are enough to completely pull away our focus. So switch off your mobile phone, resist the urge of checking your email and try to keep a calm and silent atmosphere especially when working in open-plan offices.

7. Of course being respectful and not disturbing towards our colleagues doesn’t mean the office atmosphere shouldn’t be open and positive. Hell, no! An easy-going environment (have you seen the screenwriters’ room of “Friends”?) where people are truly respectful to each other and open for new ideas can create a big boost in creativity. So don’t shut down new ideas, encourage feedback, and, most importantly: let people know that in creative thinking there are no mistakes. The more confident and secure people feel, the more creative they can become.

8. Time. Time. And time. Apple is said to put aside about 20% of their innovators’ work day for creative thinking sessions. This is a massive issue where many companies are struggling – employees are often overwhelmed by their workloads. As Monty Python’s John Cleese also suggests – the more we stick to a problem, the more creative its solution will be. We shouldn’t rush into the temptation of making a quick decision but “resist the discomfort”. And, if we are lucky, we might actually come up with something creative.

9. We might have heard it a thousand times: happier people and happier teams are actually more creative. But how to improve your employees’ happiness? Try conducting workplace surveys such as happinessworks.com – and act on feedback.

10. And finally, you might try following the advice of this study from the University of British Columbia and paint your office walls blue.

Lilian SohnLilian is a passionate digital marketer creating multilingual online
marketing campaigns for clients in the UK, Italy and Germany.

She has worked for large multinational IT companies, giving her an insight into business
process management, team building and HR practices in larger

Currently Lilian is studying with the Chartered Institute of
Marketing and providing SEO services for companies in the healthcare,
fashion and other industries.

Lilian lives in Parma, Italy.


Categories: Leadership, Workplace Reality

Author:Theo Priestley

"I had more creative ideas from Theo in 6 months than I have had in 6 years from most people." Theo Priestley is one of the most recognised independent technology industry influencers and evangelists, ranking in the Top 100 thought leaders across Virtual/ Augmented Reality, FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things and future trends. Theo has written insights for Forbes, Wired, The European Magazine, Venturebeat to name a few, and has been interviewed for many online publications including the BBC on his thoughts on technology and the future. A regular paid keynote speaker and panelist at conferences and events, Theo is engaged for his forthright views and isn't afraid to challenge conventional thinking and the marketing hype surrounding the industry when presenting, never pulling punches to get the message across on how technology can be applied to improve business and the customer experience. He has also successfully organised and run TEDx and Ignite events. Highly active across social networks, he sits in the Top 1% for social media engagement on Kred and Klout and is constantly sharing articles and his analysis that he feels his audience would be interested in. Theo is also active in the startup community, mentoring within UK and US accelerators and sits on a number of advisory boards. Former VP and Chief Technology Evangelist at a Top 25 European enterprise software company with a career spanning both innovation strategy and delivery of software and business change in Financial Services, and as an independent technology industry analyst. Follow Theo on Twitter @tprstly or connect here directly for constant insights on tech and marketing trends. • Top 1% Influencer on Kred (915) • Top 1% Influencer on Klout (70+) • 12,000+ Followers on LinkedIn • 13,000+ Followers on Twitter • Recognised Top Influencer in AI, Virtual/ Augmented Reality, Fintech, IOT and Wearable Tech, Big Data and Analytics.

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2 Comments on “Our work environment impacts our creativity”

  1. Craig J Willis
    March 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    I think there are some good points here but they are very general. I recently posted about how a radical change in my life helped me get back into the habit of innovating. http://wp.me/p1KGaW-2C

    But everyone will have their ‘own thing’ that works. For example my business partner and I are both deep thinkers, we like to discuss ideas and challenges but we often have to go and think about them in our own times and spaces. I love to get on bicycle, I do my best thinking on two wheels. Whereas he likes to sit on his own with music on, he claims he can’t think while exercising.

    My new workspace is in a basement, no windows, no natural light and yet I am much more productive there than I was in the previous open plan office I worked in.

    The main thing for me was breaking out of a rut and having done that I’m happier and this makes it easier to be creative which in turn makes me happier still! 🙂


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