MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization? is written by Beth Monaghan, principal and co-founder of InkHouse.
As the leader of a public relations firm, I often find myself doing something. Whether it’s scrolling through TweetDeck, cranking out a blog post in the early morning, checking email while I’m waiting for my lunch or squeezing in one last conference call on my drive home – this is the substance of many days. Did you know that white-collar workers check email 74 times a day? Speaking of email, have you ever had a good idea while staring into the abyss of your inbox? I doubt it. But if we’re not careful, the constant dings of the alerts from texts, emails, and Facebook (FB) messages will overwhelm our mental space with multitasking instead of creativity.
What of productivity though? It’s requisite, but in a workplace like ours that relies on big ideas to introduce new thinking and innovations to the market, we don’t have the luxury of confusing productivity with creativity. The good news is that we don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
The bad news perhaps, is that we do have to let go of our attachment to the “badge of busyness.” We might as well trade our titles for the average number of emails we receive each day. It’s an all-too-luring marker of value for eager entry-level employees and top CEOs alike. Okay — so we’re not going to tear people away from their phones and laptops. We can, however, create a workplace culture that fosters the mental space required for big ideas. Even the smallest operational changes can have enormous impact.
At InkHouse, we decided to shift the measure of value from time served to great ideas. First, we updated our values. Then, we stenciled them on the wall in our entryway. One of these values is that “process is not the same as progress.” It’s one thing to write it and another to reinforce it, so we had to create new workplace policies. First, we instituted a no email rule between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. The email policy made it not just okay, but healthy to take a mental break. Exceptions occur, but we also encourage people to use the phone when this happens so they’re not tethered to their email around the clock.
Second, we established an unlimited vacation policy. This empowers employees to be the arbiters of good judgment. If we want a workforce of smart, intelligent, kind and creative people, we need to empower them to work in the ways that fuel their creativity. This means giving them the flexibility to take time off when they need to recharge. On the other hand, a culture of ‘yes-people’ who must seek permission to take a lunch break fosters incrementalism. Incremental ideas rarely fail but are hardly ever homeruns. An empowered workforce is a confident workforce, one that is brave enough to bring forward the kinds of ideas that are big enough to be transformational, but is also tolerant of failure.
Creativity relies on an intentional step away from the chaos so our minds can find space for the ideas that skip along the edges. Bill Gates knew this long before mindfulness became a thing. He was famous for his twice-yearly “Think Weeks” when he pondered the future of Microsoft.
A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a group of our account executives and they asked me for advice about how they could advance in their careers. I told them to tend to their minds, and do the things that fuel their souls and their creativity. I encouraged them to schedule it on their calendars so it becomes habit. For me, it’s getting up at 4:45 a.m., meditating and then writing for an hour. For others it’s running, surfing or taking a walk outside.
If this fluffiness about creativity and mental space isn’t enough, I will tell you this: one study found that our addiction to multitasking has the same effect as being high. Anyone want to meet me outside for a walk?
Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
How to reward good (and bad) ideas at work by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
4 ways to stop worrying and embrace creative risks by Laura Pincus Hartman, professor of business ethics at Boston University.
Why you absolutely need creative employees by Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.