5 Tips for Irish Businesses to Boost Creativity in the Workplace


What’s the best way to generate original and profitable new ideas for your business? We explore how large corporations nurture creativity and how SMEs can approach the same challenge. Here are 5 tips for Irish businesses to boost creativity in the workplace:

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Creativity is the lifeblood of a successful business, with some of the world’s biggest names in business recognising its importance through special initiatives designed to foster creative thinking. Google, for instance, tells its employees to devote 20% of their time to side projects, while Virgin America encourages its staff to incorporate personality and humour into their on-screen messages at boarding gates. Facebook regularly changes the names of its meeting spaces and hosts a ‘Hackamonth’ when employees can spend time working with different teams.

While these initiatives are undoubtedly fun, they have serious intent. A survey carried out by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Adobe found that companies that foster creativity are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers in terms of revenue growth, while research published by the Aston Business School found that creative sales professionals generated higher sales than their less creative counterparts.

Recommended reading: Mind Mapping for Innovative Entrepreneurs

Using creativity in your business

“Creativity can help with all aspects of business, from solving problems in varied functions to driving business performance,” says Dr Na Fu, associate professor in HR management at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin. She adds that business owners should think of creativity as a process.

“There are three stages of creativity or innovation: generating new ideas, promoting new ideas and implementing the new ideas. Some organisations are good at one or two. Only when the three stages are all satisfied will the creativity be transformed to positive results.”

A successful example is Kate McQuillan, who runs Pet Sitters Ireland. Five years ago, she came up with the idea for a nationwide pet competition, the Nose of Tralee. Her aim was to engage all pet lovers and create a competition with more longevity than a photo competition on social media.

Its impact has been greater than she ever imagined. Over the last five years she has seen a huge growth in entries, going from a few hundred to well over a thousand, accompanied by a big spike in website traffic and service enquiries during the competition period.

Kate McQuillan, co-founder of Pet Sitters Ireland

“Last year the website received over 100,000 visitors during that period, with over 30,000 votes in the final of the competition,” she says. “We’ve also grown our Facebook page to 39,000 followers, many of which came from the competition.”

She has been especially delighted with the huge amount of publicity that the competition has received in local and national newspapers, and on TV and radio.

“For most businesses this kind of press would be completely out of their budget, so to have something that is so talked about and generates so much free press is incredible. Plus, it’s a fun thing to be part of and brings so much joy to so many pet owners.”

McQuillan attributes the success of the competition to creative thinking – something she nurtures by attending events that surround her with people who spark new business ideas.

“Show staff that their input is genuinely valued and welcome. Planning for profit can be fun and a sustainable business needs a strong team and not a lone ranger”

Mags Boland Murphy, Bofin Consultancy

“I have attended many marketing events and have been to Social Media Marketing World in San Diego twice now. I’m also part of a local mastermind group and have lots of business friends to bounce ideas off,” she says.

“Coming up with creative ideas helps you stand out from other companies. People remember you for doing something different rather than just doing the same things every company is doing. It’s also fun to be creative – there is a great sense of achievement when you come up with something new and people love it.”

Encouraging creativity in your staff

Creativity is not a lone occupation: your staff also have important roles to play. Forrester Consulting found that a positive employee work environment is a fertile breeding ground for creativity – but how do you achieve this?

“To encourage new idea generation, your staff need space and resources,” advises Fu. “This can be done via small meetings with a focused problem. For idea promotion, support is needed for the staff who came up with the idea to help them to get the idea out. At implementation stage, support from the business owner and staff is really critical.”

Business mentor and management consultant Mags Boland Murphy, who runs Bofin Consultancy in County Wexford, recommends using creativity in profit planning and including your staff in the idea generation process.

“Show staff that their input is genuinely valued and welcome,” she says. “Planning for profit can be fun and a sustainable business needs a strong team and not a lone ranger.”

She also recommends showing your staff key figures and involving them in the process of trying to make improvements.

“You do not have to show full financials to staff; however, show them the growth areas and the areas that may not be growing as you wish. Get their input on what they think needs to happen to help further growth. Do they think that there is room for improvement?”

Nurturing creativity in your team can also help them grow, develop and feel fulfilled – an element that should not be underestimated.

“What is the ROI for you and your business? Increased staff retention, happy customers, revenue growth, a positive workplace environment, greater idea generation, positive diversification, more profit, a stronger business and greater sustainability,” says Boland Murphy.

Recommended reading: 8 Things To Encourage an Innovation Culture

Five tips for boosting creativity in business

1. Record ideas

“Get into the habit of coming up with new ideas and keeping a book of them,” says McQuillan. “You don’t have to implement all the ideas but doing this every day is like exercising your brain to be more creative.”

2. Absorb ideas

“Follow brands that are outside your industry for inspiration,” says McQuillan. “There are lots of brands that are doing great things that will spark ideas for your own business.

3. Throw in an element of critical thinking

“Ask yourself: why would people care about this?” says McQuillan. “What would make people want to get involved with your idea and why would they invest their time and energy in it? It’s easy to fall into a trap of doing things you think will be good for business, but unless people care about or want what you are creating then it’s never going to be successful.”

4. Mix it up

“Invite staff to leave their comfort zone – for example, invite those that are really focused online to swap places and do the face-to-face work offline – they might have skills they never knew about,” says Boland Murphy. “For example, invite staff in other departments to brainstorm with the marketing department: creative minds are not department specific, and your marketers may welcome the support.”

5. Forge links outside your business

“Collaborate with universities – a lot of business schools promote collaboration with industry,” says Fu. “In Trinity Business School, we highly encourage our students to conduct company-based projects. Under academic supervision, students will focus on the challenges that organisations are facing. Either individually or in a team, they provide evidence-based recommendations for the organisations – at no financial cost. I highly recommend business owners to start to use this valuable source for creative thinking.”

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