Mental roadblocks such as writers’ block are a common, frustrating phenomenon for creative employees. Whereas employees should not be expected to be imaginative and productive for every second of their shift, a significant slump can snowball into a disaster. To overcome creative slumps and to keep employees engaged in their tasks, employees and managers will have to work together to keep employees mentally fresh and free to collaborate.
Attempting to rush creativity rarely works. The stress and pressure associated with looming deadlines and other external stressors inhibit peoples’ ability to fully utilize their minds. And any creative endeavour involving multiple people will require additional time to facilitate healthy communication and to change individual ideas and suggestions into group solutions. This is not to say that creative projects should not have any deadlines. However, creative teams should have sufficient time to collaborate and experiment, and they should feel comfortable discussing problems and complications with their managers.
Managers and employees should fight the urge to equate “flexible deadlines” with “no structure.” The creative team will still have an end product to deliver. The creative team and stakeholders should gather and define what the goal of the creative team is. Whereas the details need not be as defined as a technical product such as financial software, setting a firm goal and general expectations for the creative team will help the creative team focus on what the customers expect and prevent “feature creep” and another phenomenon that could cause the end product to be delayed or vastly different from what the customers envision.
Even when involved in teams, employees will need individual time to maximize their creative output. Any physical space where the employee feels comfortable and can minimize distractions and interruptions will do. In addition, employees should feel safe in compiling a list of questions and concerns that they can present to their co-workers and managers without hesitation.
An office space that caters to the needs of creative employees can significantly help with creative endeavours. Reference materials such as books, advertising magazines, and terminals that can access artistic online resources can help employees quickly find inspiration or answers. Multiple designated quiet areas can help individuals and groups limit distractions. And training is as important for creative skills as it is for technical skills, so providing access to online courses, external instructors, brown-bag lunch courses, and other methods of art education can keep employees engaged.
There is no shame in asking for advice, peer reviews, and similar measures of assistance. This is especially true for creative projects, where verbalizing or writing down a concept for a trusted party to review can remove creative blocks and lead to a more dynamic end product. Creative teams should not hesitate to get second opinions from their teammates and managers. And when Non-Disclosure Agreements are non-restrictive or absent, employees can seek advice from friends, mentors, and family outside of the company. You may also need a mentor, seek help from top management, or learn from motivational speakers. Getting advice from others and looking at the problem from their outside point of view may be just what you need to get your creative juices flowing.
It is common for creative projects to exceed their budgets or underperform with target audiences. Fear of failure and its consequences can cause creative employees to succumb to external pressures that will reduce their ability to generate creative output. Another potential negative consequence of trying to prevent a failure is “safe” solutions that do not showcase the employees’ abilities and lead to output that may be indiscernible from competitors’ output. When failure is treated as a common business phenomenon and a learning experience, the fear of failure will have a less restrictive effect on creative employees.
Most people’s exposure to improvisation is limited to comedy shows on stage or on television. However, the core principles of improvisation can be easily and effectively applied to virtually any group. Improvisational exercises operate on three basic, yet powerful, rules: say “Yes” to the partner’s input, make it into something new by adding details, and pass the input back to the partner. Successful improvisation requires all participants to actively listen to their partners, accept their partners’ input, and keep the exercise flowing with open communication and high engagement. Through improvisational exercises such as “What Are You Doing?” and “Yes, And” may not have direct applications to business projects, the communication skills and creativity required to successfully complete the improvisational exercises will serve creative employees well.
For both creative and technical tasks, letting a task sit for a brief period can prove beneficial. Taking breaks – whether the break is a brief stroll or a vacation – can help the employee rest their mind and body. Switching to another project can prevent “tunnel vision,” boredom, and other negative effects of constant focus on a single task. In addition, many people are capable of subconsciously pondering tasks while engaged in other activities; solutions and ideas can come to creative employees while they work on other professional projects or tend to their personal duties.
Humans have different ways of getting motivated or inspired. Employees who have a comfortable, honest assessment of their creative triggers can maximize their work hours. When an employee’s creative triggers are not available or possible at the workplace, a combination of after-work activities, flexible schedules, or Paid Time Off can help employees seek out their creative triggers and work on their tasks at their peak. Examples of creative triggers include favoured media such as songs and books, specific environments including gardens or zoos, and external factors such as a favourite food or a tactically applied stressor.
Employees, managers, and stakeholders must understand that a creative project is not like a technical project. Unlike technical projects, where uniformity and rigidity can be assets, creative projects require creative teams to be comfortable and inspired to find a unique, engaging way to reach the goal. Managers can assist by learning what motivates and inspires their employees, then establishing physical and social policies that foment creativity. And employees will need to honestly assess what maximizes their creative output, then advocate for the assistance and tools that they need to be productive and imaginative.