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Encouraging Daily Creative Thinking, Innovation & Resourcefulness in the Workplace

Posted on May 3, 2019
Lightbulb drawn on a sticky pad placed on a cork board

Fostering Creativity in the Workplace: Part I 

In today’s world of work, it is unusual to find an organization that can be successful by relying on static processes, ideas and approaches; it is rarer still to find one that exists in a stable and unchanging environment. Creativity in the workplace is about responding to changing demands in your environment, and making changes within your organization that allow you to impact positively – and transform – that environment. Creativity combined with action produces innovation. It yields greater efficacy in problem-solving, more employee and customer/stakeholder engagement, and a more agile and flexible organization. 

Let’s take a look at how organizations that don’t have “traditional” customers, like government agencies and nonprofits, require creativity to thrive. In these types of organizations, the people who benefit from their services are often not the same people who pay for them. And in government agencies, in particular, payment is usually not voluntary. This means there are at least two distinct groups with different interests creating pressure on the organization. One may demand things like lower costs, higher efficiency, and lower frequency and volume of service; the other higher quality service, greater convenience, more service and with greater frequency. Creativity and innovation are unquestionably necessary to bridge these types of opposing demands.

Why is creativity in the workplace important? 

Our creativity allows us to leave a part of ourselves behind when we leave an organization. Innovative solutions contribute to the legacy of their creators and implementers within organizations. If you fail to innovate, and continue to rely on “the way we always did it,” you are perpetuating someone else’s legacy instead of creating your own. When people resist innovation and the change it brings with it, they are failing to make an enduring contribution to their organization, co-workers, customers and clients.

Creativity is a team activity. In his book, Group Genius, Keith Sawyer debunks the myth of the lone genius, instead asserting that it is collaboration that generates breakthrough innovation. Sawyer, a professor who has spent more than 20 years studying the science of creativity, avers, “Collaboration drives creativity because innovation always emerges from a series of sparks – never a single flash of insight.” Collaboration works best in a culture where people trust each other and support each other’s ideas. How do you go about developing this type of culture?

Here is the story of what we did at the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) and its subsidiary, the Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO):

What problems can creativity solve?

Ben franklin bridge at sunset

The Delaware River Port Authority is a bi-state transportation agency that serves as steward of four bridges that cross the Delaware River between southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey: the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry and Betsy Ross Bridges. Through its subsidiary, the Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO), the DRPA also operates a transit line between Camden County, New Jersey and Center City Philadelphia. The bi-state nature of our quasi-governmental entity can present unique challenges.

All organizations have departments, subgroups, and silos that staff members belong to that can threaten organizational cohesion. At DRPA and PATCO, employees may also see themselves as being Pennsylvania or New Jersey, DRPA or PATCO, Union or non-represented, Republican or Democrat. With so much potential for division, we sought to revitalize our culture and unify our senior management team.

How can you encourage creative connecting?

group of adults standing in circle, smiling

Our goal was clear: Bring our team together in a way that inspires creativity and collaboration. But where to start?

At DRPA and PATCO, our mission and vision are based on the concepts of stewardship, service, and building community. We strive to support and serve each other and our community. Listening to understand, continuous improvement, treating everyone with respect, and trying to see things from the other person’s point of view are among our highest values. We wanted to do something that was innovative and highly creative, that would generate excitement, foster connection and cohesion and emphasize these values. And we found what we were looking for in the world of improvisational comedy.

Austin’s Hideout Theatre succinctly defines improvisation as “a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment. Often improvisers will take a suggestion from the audience, or draw on some other source of inspiration to get started.” Applicable to both drama and comedy, improvisation is created in the moment, unscripted and unrehearsed. So how does this off-the-cuff and on-your-toes genre apply to the workplace?

Read more in Part II: Improv Your Culture next week!


John Hanson

CEO, Delaware River Port Authority