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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Ways Your Workplace Is Killing Your Creativity—and How to Bring it Back

We all know creativity and innovation are important. But they also take discipline to cultivate. You can’t just sit down and tell your brain to start coming up with brilliant ideas, after all! It’s something you have to foster, encourage, and practice day in and day out.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t get the opportunity to do this in our day jobs. Maybe you just have too many to-dos to have time for creativity. Maybe your office is dull and uninspiring. Maybe you keep getting too distracted by your colleagues (or Facebook) to have space to come up with new ideas.

Whatever it is, the modern workplace can be tough on innovation. But besides buying toys for your desk to make it a little more exciting, how can you go about inviting more creativity into your day-to-day work?

After attending Marriott International’s internal Innovation Days conference last week, I came back with a few ideas. Here are just a few problem areas you may be running into and how to work against them to set your creative mind free.

1. You Only Ever Work With the Same People

When you’re feeling stuck on a problem, we all know how helpful it can be to turn to a colleague and brainstorm together to get closer to a solution. Two heads are better than one, right?

And while, yes, this sort of collaboration is great for coming up with new and better ideas, you may be stunting your innovation by always turning to the same people. Especially if your team has been working together for a very long time, you probably think in similar ways, meaning nobody is bringing truly new ideas to the table. In fact, research has shown that the most successful creative teams have a healthy mix of people who know each other well and people who were new to the group. The familiarity allows them to work together comfortably, while the new voices bring a fresh perspective.

During many of the workshops at Innovation Days, Marriott encouraged attendees to group up with people they weren’t familiar with to brainstorm solutions to problems or envision and prototype crazy ideas—and you should look for ways to do the same. Can you invite someone in another department out to coffee and start to build a relationship? Get involved in brainstorming on a tangential project? Or just spend a little more time working in common areas to encourage spontaneous meetings with different folks? Whatever you do, make an effort to regularly interact and work with people outside of your standard team.

See how you can up your creativity with a job at Marriott International!

2. You’re Always Busy

We all have a lot to do. But constantly running from meeting to meeting or jumping from task to task leaves no space for innovative ideas to jump in. As designer Sarah Foelske shared in an interview with 99U, “There’s usually a time in any project when a stuck moment happens, and I find that getting away from the computer and the busyness of the day is the most important part in successfully battling that. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes. When you rest your mind, the ideas will come easier.”

In fact, creating this space for creativity is so critical that the first session at the Innovation Days conference was on mindfulness and meditation. Studies have shown again and again that these practices support better creative thinking: by helping you filter out other thoughts when you need to focus, by supporting “divergent thinking” or the generation of new ideas, by reducing your cognitive rigidity to free your mind to think differently, and more. Another study showed that people tend to come up with their best ideas while spacing out.

So try and carve out some time every day to put down everything you have to do and just be in the moment, allowing ideas to come. Maybe that’s through traditional meditation: Marriott has a meditation room for its employees, so perhaps you can convince your employer to do the same, or just find a quiet corner to go sit. If you’re more the guided meditation type, apps like Headspace even offer particular tracks for creative thinking. If you’re not great at sitting still, you could even try something like coloring meditation to keep your hands moving but allow your mind to wander.

And then you can go back to being busy. Just give yourself a break.

3. You’re Expected to Be an Expert

We live in a professional world where there’s a lot of pressure to have all the answers. The fact that expertise is lauded can be seen in everything from LinkedIn endorsements to the dread that we all feel when we have to admit “I don’t know.”

And while expertise is valuable, it can also be harmful to creativity; if you always feel like you know everything, you’ll never push yourself to see things differently. That’s why Neil Blumenthal, founder of Warby Parker, encourages his employees to approach problems with a “beginner’s mindset” rather than that of an expert. He says that, when approaching a problem, it’s better to do so without preconceived notions and with plenty of curiosity.

There are plenty of ways to do this, even when you do have some expertise in the area. For example, during the conference, Marriott encouraged employees to conduct customer interviews at the beginning of the creative process. This technique allowed them to step outside of their expertise and back into the mind of someone less familiar with the problem.

And when you don’t know the answer to something, don’t be afraid to admit it. It might, in fact, be an opportunity to use your non-expertise as an advantage to bring a fresh perspective to the table.

What ways will you try to become more innovative this week? Tell us on Twitter with #MarriottInnovates!

Photo of team brainstorming courtesy of Shutterstock.