“Endlessly exposed to the wonder of the world”

lightbulbsFrom industry leaders Google and Nike to writing agency The Stranger Collective, companies large and small are investing in creativity. Katie Treggiden explains why.

Yoga, running, headstands. Art galleries, good books, time with friends. Getting away from your desk, away from the problem, away from it all. Total immersion followed by total distraction. Coffee, alcohol, mind-enhancing drugs. The ways in which we seek inspiration are as varied as the briefs we’re trying to crack.

With “creativity” fast replacing “productivity” as the watchword of successful business, creating an environment in which ideas flow freely has become a board-level concern.

You’ve probably heard the story of how “the glue that wouldn’t stick” became one of 3M’s most successful products; the Post-it note. What you might not know is that its creator, Art Fry, came up with the idea during something 3M calls “15% time”; an initiative which allows employees to spend 15% of their working week exploring ideas that fall outside of their day jobs.

Google frees up a day a week for their engineers to work on whatever they like, and LinkedIn engineers can get 30 to 90 days to develop their own ideas.

Nike takes a more lateral approach with its “design days.” Designers from across the organisation come together to develop ideas from children’s books to haute couture. Scott Wilson said: “Ross Lovegrove came in and we made chairs out of cardboard. The first round was which ones looked the best. The last round was musical chairs. Not many survived!” he laughed.

It’s not just big companies that are investing in creativity. Writing agency The Stranger Collective encourages staff to take one day in every ten to “feed” – that is to get away from their desks and do anything creative as long as it doesn’t relate to their current work.

Director Clare Howdle says: “The rules around feeding are simple. Do anything that inspires you: explore, discover, think, create – anything that will give you a fresh perspective to help you come up with new ideas and craft great words. It could be a conference on storytelling, a foraging course, or just meeting up with someone interesting.”

But does it work? “Feeding keeps our creative juices flowing and our thinking sharp. It means we write better, we generate ideas more quickly and we know more about what’s going on in the world around us. It keeps us inspired and makes us happier. Since feeding was introduced we’ve seen a 40% increase in job applications. People want to work with us, which is a real endorsement,” says Clare.“By staying well ‘fed’, we do our jobs better. It is a simple as that.”

A recent Horizons programme, The Creative Brain, backs up the theory. Scientists looking at what triggers creativity have found that stimulating your brain in different ways makes you more capable of processing and solving problems. So the importance of nurturing creativity is not just a hunch – it really works.

As David Attenborough said, life is about making sure we stay “endlessly exposed to the wonder of the world.” A good motto for any creative I’d say.

Katie Treggiden

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