A quick to pivot to new products, services, or business models when COVID-19 shutdowns, safety concerns, and supply issues disrupted business-as-usual. Reduced employee turnover and greater internal mobility. Ability to adapt to unforeseen challenges.

What do these have in common? Organizations that experience these benefits are likely to also have a culture that nurtures creativity and promotes continuous learning beyond what is required for the learner’s current job role.

Creativity is an element of resilience

Creativity is an essential element of resilience.

Forbes writes, “Successful entrepreneurs act as the perfect amalgamation of creativity and business. Effective entrepreneurs can spot an unaddressed problem and then build a company to solve it.”

While some may argue that you cannot “teach” creativity, evidence suggests otherwise. Learning and development professionals identified creativity as the most in-demand soft skill in 2019 and 2020. These leaders recognize that navigating a “new normal” of working and learning, within a rapidly changing economic and technological landscape, demands creativity.

Learning leaders who understand the value of a creative workforce can guide their organizations’ training strategies and planning in essential directions. The ability to tap into creativity and harness it for personal, professional, and organizational benefit is a skill that sets innovative individuals—and their organizations—apart and equips them to lead.

Innovative companies outperform their peers

In early 2020, few would have predicted the coming tsunami of change and challenge. Yet COVID-19 unleashed a torrent of creativity in workers at all levels.

Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends report states, “The growing prevalence of worker agency and choice during the pandemic showed that, when given the chance to align their interests and passions with organizational needs, workers can fulfill their potential in ways that leaders may never have known they could, positioning the organization to thrive in the long term.”

Organizations thrive when they reward curiosity & creativity

Creativity emerges from curiosity. “Every day there are pieces of knowledge waiting to be discovered and explored, then pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. To make these discoveries, businesses must rely on key curiosity foundations such as open communication and collaboration, and by doing so, they will see improvements in areas that directly impact business goals,” Shannon Tipton wrote in a recent Go1.com blog post. “Curiosity is the thread that connects turning pieces of knowledge into greater business discoveries.”

This makes sense if you think about what creative employees bring to their organizations. Creative people think about things from new angles and are open to trying new things. They embrace positive change, are more adaptable, and are better problem-solvers. This might enable them to embrace new technology and automation tools and features, for example, or it could drive problem-solving approaches that make the organization resilient and agile in facing challenges.

People at companies that support creativity feel safe checking out new ideas, experimenting, and, yes, making mistakes. A culture that nurtures innovation is inherently one that understands that not all innovations and ideas will succeed.

A Forrester report published in 2014 linked a culture of creativity with better performance and an edge in both market share and talent acquisition. Workers feel more invested in their jobs and companies when their ideas are well received and they are encouraged to think, problem-solve, and share those ideas. These workers are more likely to stay with the company and to grow and develop into leaders or top performers.

5 ways learning leaders can nurture creativity

Learning and development professionals can nurture learners’ creativity through their training approaches; they can also influence organizational culture in broader ways. In partnership with organizational leaders, L&D leaders can model and reinforce a curious, creative mindset in these ways:

Advocate for creativity “training”

Developing training that nurtures creativity can take many formats. The design thinking approach offers suggestions, starting with its emphasis on empathy and imagining a customer or user’s viewpoint in devising a solution. Practice in trying on various perspectives hones creativity by snapping learners out of their own limited viewpoint.

Creativity training can also include materials focused on soft skills like communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. These skills are in high demand for other reasons, too, like leadership development.

Engage with goal-setting

Learning leaders can engage with managers, learners, and even executives on goal-setting. They might participate in shaping the managers’ or executives’ goals for their own or the organization’s development—or learning leaders might guide the managers as they steer their direct reports in setting developmental goals.

By engaging with organizational leaders, learning and development teams can influence goal setting that helps workers refocus, encourages them to reskill or upskill, and nudges them toward training that will nurture their creativity and critical thinking skills.

Learning leaders who promote use of a framework like SMART goals or OKRs can help learners and their managers realign their role-related and long-term career goals with the new post-COVID priorities.

Challenge and question what you “know”

Deep questioning that challenges accepted knowledge can uncover new approaches and perspectives—new realities, even. Intentional cultivation of curiosity fuels creativity, according to Tipton, who suggests a process:

  • Identify a challenge
  • Adopt a growth mindset that encourages questioning
  • Search and challenge the reality
  • Ask probing questions
  • Share results with teammates and solicit feedback

Encourage brainstorming activities

Outside of formal training, learning leaders can encourage employees at all levels to participate in brainstorming activities that encourage creativity. These can be fun team-building activities or focus on solving real problems. Approaches to try go far beyond the typical gathering where people suggest ideas. They include:

  • Mind mapping — Participants focus on an idea or concept and generate connected words, ideas, and suggestions.
  • Toyota’s 5 Whys process — Solve problems by asking “Why” and listing answers — each answer leads to more “Why” questions, encouraging participants to dig deeply into problems and find new solutions.
  • SWOT analysis — When analyzing an idea or problem, looking at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of any proposed solution encourages participants to brainstorm all the possible pros and cons of their decision.

Go all-in on your organization’s DEI strategy

A crucial way to improve the creativity and innovation in your organization is by increasing the diversity of teams and leadership! Learning leaders can and should be key players in furthering DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts.

Including multiple viewpoints and a broader range of experiences and backgrounds will super-charge any brainstorming session—as well as bringing new ideas to discussions among colleagues and revitalizing collaborative learning and working.

Engage with learning leaders

Are you seeking the strategies and skills required to navigate the needs of today’s ever-changing workplace? Are you an experienced or aspiring leader looking for a community to connect with to explore today’s biggest learning leadership challenges?

The Learning Leaders Alliance is a vendor-neutral global community for learning leaders who want to stay ahead of the curve, and for aspiring leaders wanting to build their skillsets. The Learning Guild’s Alliance Membership package includes access to exclusive digital events and content curated for today’s modern learning leader, as well as opportunities to attend in-person learning leadership events held around the globe. See the details here.