The virtuous cycle of innovation & wellbeing

How creative were you yesterday?Pause for a moment, and really think about this…

Did you engage in any creative activity, come up with an innovative idea or solution… contribute to something completely new and different?

  • Maybe you thought about an innovation to a process or service in your work…
  • Designed a new image, page or visual to represent your ideas, work or proposed solution…
  • Collaborated in a brainstorming session…
  • Or wrote a blog about something new you have discovered.

Anyone?We have known for some time that organisations who do a good job of implementing health and wellbeing programs can expect to see an uplift in creativity and innovation among employees by as much as 50%. This is an important metric to demonstrate the benefit of and return from investing in wellbeing. (There are many more – just ask).

But there is more to the story. New research indicates that it ‘goes both ways’ – not only does enhanced wellbeing increase creativity, but also creativity has a positive impact on wellbeing. That’s right – you will feel more positive and put a spring in your step if you do something innovative!

The research comes from Otago University in New Zealand, where 650 participants in the study reported a significant increase in positive emotions and wellbeing after engaging in creative activity. Of note was that this mood shift was reported the day after the creativity took place – creating today brings enhanced wellbeing tomorrow! The participants also rated their social relationships as more supportive and rewarding after their creative activity.

This was a self-report study, which seems even better – as long as you think you’ve been creative you will experience more positivity and enhanced wellbeing. You don’t actually have to win a Nobel prize, you can just believe you are good enough to!

In summary:

  1. Boosting wellbeing encourages innovation;
  2. And engaging in creative activity boosts your wellbeing.

These findings are exciting because they reveal another approach to enhance our own wellbeing – another way to boost our mood and reap the benefits.

Perhaps use this as a prompt to think of how you can build more creativity into your life – through art, music, writing, cooking, designing, building, making – even gardening. What is one thing you can introduce this week?

And, for leaders in organisations – this is a ‘win-win’ – with the right approach, they can encourage fresh, new and different thinking from their people and get the extra payback of greater happiness and positivity in the workplace.

Try these 10 leader’s tips for enhancing innovation and wellbeing:

  1. Allow time for alternative options to emerge – deadlines have to be met, but try and build in sufficient time for idea creation, reflection and review without exerting pressure to narrow to a solution too soon.
  2. Refrain from quick judgement about your team members’ ideas – don’t be the ‘black hat’ in the room, avoid pointing out all the ways something won’t work. This will stifle ideas. Remain open and curious.
  3. Create trust and psychological safety amongst your team so that everyone feels able and willing to contribute – give positive feedback, be open, listen well.
  4. Demonstrate that you care about the wellbeing and career development of your team – this has been shown to drive innovation.
  5. Hold standing team meetings – research shows that when standing, there is more creative energy and excitement in the room (and less sitting is good too).
  6. Encourage a change of scenery – new environments can stimulate thinking and new ideas to flow. Outdoors meetings, discussions in coffee shops, working from home – whatever works for the team. In the US Gensler Innovation Survey of 4,000 respondents, the most innovative employees reported having a choice about where to work and spent less time in the office, using a range of alternative workspaces.
  7. Innovation at work is influenced by individuals feeling that their organisation is making a positive impact on society – so ensure that your team understand the broader objectives and can relate their contribution to them.
  8. Encourage breaks – optimal performance can only be sustained for 90 minutes, yet many people push through the work day taking few breaks. The brain needs to be fed and watered to work effectively – role model break time and good nutritional habits.
  9. Build diversity in your team – people with different backgrounds (age, experience, gender) will have different perspectives and come up with different ideas. If you have a specific challenge or problem, think about how to maximise diversity.
  10. Stimulate innovative ideas by providing learning opportunities – expose your team to new information and see where this leads. Lunch and learns, secondments to or from other teams, external courses and conferences, even museum or gallery trips – these will all bring new creative collateral into the team.
Sims, J (2010). Wellness and Productivity Management. Health and Productivity Congress.
Conner, T. S., DeYoung C. G., & Silvia P. J. (2017). Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing.  Journal of Positive Psychology