“Working Hard” or “Hardly Working”? Find Your Balance Between Productivity and Creativity

Can there be such a thing as “too productive”? Productivity is almost the holy grail of modern business. Corporations spend billions on technology, devices, and apps to make their employees “more efficient” or “more productive.” If you Google “work hacks,” you’ll have instant access to 20,800,000 articles on work hacks promising to change your life. What is it about checking boxes, responding to messages, scheduling meetings, and setting deadlines that warrants so much investment? Especially when it doesn’t seem to be paying off. According to the Financial Times, April 30, 2017, “Growth in total-factor productivity in the advanced economies…has fallen to zero in recent years…and growth in labour productivity has fallen even more.”

That’s a huge disconnect. Can there be too much focus on productivity and not enough on what’s really worth working on? Maybe there‘s a missing piece.

That piece is creativity. This is where new ideas come from. This is the playground for working out inspiration. This is where you follow the rabbit trail until it ends or leads you somewhere else. Where? You don’t know until you get there. Encouraging creativity helps you get everyone’s best ideas—not just their fastest ideas on schedule and in Powerpoint.

But creativity makes people—especially managers—squirm. Creativity needs time and space to allow the mind to wander, wonder, soak up impressions, and explore different ideas. Creativity isn’t quantifiable, measurable, or a line from Point A to Point B. It can erupt in bursts. A breakthrough idea can lie dormant for a long time until a random insight suddenly puts the pieces together. Sometimes, just looking at what’s around you shows you an analogous problem, pointing the way to a solution. Creativity is unpredictable, refusing to fit into a box on a timeline. And that’s the point.

For example, by being curious about how burs clung to his dog’s fur Swiss engineer George de Mestral invented Velcro – “the best-known and most commercially successful instance of biomimicry.” Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train overcame the problem of unacceptable noise levels thanks to a bird-watching engineer. As high-speed trains drive through tunnels, air pressure builds up in waves and, when the nose emerges, can produce a shotgun-like thunderclap heard for a quarter mile. Eiji Nakatsu, a bird-watching engineer at the Japanese rail company, was inspired by the kingfisher, a fish-eating bird that creates barely a ripple when it darts into water in search of a meal. The train’s redesigned nose—a 50-foot-long steel kingfisher beak—solved the noise problem while reducing power use and enabling faster speeds.

How do you get more comfortable with creativity? It helps to understand the creative process:

Step 1: Preparation, or “gathering.” Immerse yourself in material related to a task, and let that material lead you where it will. Suppose you’re trying to come up with a theme for an event. Start by looking at themes of similar events. Talk to people who attend this type of event. Understand who will be at the event and what they’ll be talking about. Explore concepts related to their topics. Discover the inspiration behind those concepts. View art, listen to music, spend time in nature, take pictures, make notes, save artifacts—wherever the ideas take you, go.

Step 2: Incubation. Take everything you’ve gathered and arrange it or organize it in a way that is pleasing or makes sense to you. Then let it simmer. Your brain will be busy sorting through everything and coming up with new connections, ideas, etc.

Step 3:  Illumination. Go do something that energizes you and don’t think about the question or problem you’re trying to solve. At some point, the big “AHA” will come, possibly with more insight or a real solution.

Step 4: Implementation. Now you’re ready to take the idea and press forward. Depending on the problem you’re trying to solve, this is where your project management tools can be useful.

When the problem you’re trying to solve is part of a larger effort or team project, a collaboration and project management tool can help you stay synched, ensuring the flow of creativity between team members. Let Redbooth help your idea move from creative concept to reality.