12 Ways to Be More Creative at Work

In today’s knowledge-based economy, coming up with new ideas under pressure is essential.

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Many people think creativity occurs naturally. Marty Sklar, the former executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, the group that designs Disney theme parks, knows better.

Sklar holds regular "gag sessions" in which all kinds of ideas are encouraged and none are dismissed as stupid. He provides employees with time and budget restrictions so they don't waste energy on the impossible. And he seeks diverse perspectives from employees ranging in age from their early 20s to late 80s. "It's about listening and bringing out the best in people," he told participants at a conference. Those strategies helped create Epcot's spacecraft simulator, the Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion, and a Disney resort in Hong Kong.

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Sklar is part of a growing number of businesses, organizations, and individuals trying to boost creativity, driven largely by the fact that today's economy requires it. "As the knowledge part of the economy grows, evidence seems to be showing that businesses are demanding more and more conceptual thinking," says Charles Hulten, professor of economics at the University of Maryland.

In other words, it's not just Walt Disney designers who need to be creative at work—it's all of us. "Every job is a creative job," says Gregg Fraley, a Chicago-based creativity consultant. A barista, for example, can create new drinks and greet customers in a variety of ways to add to the coffee shop experience, Fraley says.

That immense demand for creativity inspired Todd Henry to launch a podcast, The Accidental Creative, in 2005, about how people can thrive in our "create on demand" culture. His hobby quickly grew into an online community, e-newsletter, products, and most recently, a book, The Accidental Creative.

If you find yourself wondering how to constantly create at your own job, here are a dozen ways to rev your creativity engine:

Branch out. Read a magazine you would never normally look at, suggests Henry. "You need to be intentional about experiencing new things in your life," he says. Collect ideas and interesting articles in a folder that you review regularly for inspiration.

Recharge. Henry says people tend to think about time management but neglect energy management. Take time out between meetings. Avoid socializing with people who leave you feeling drained. Set aside time each week for relaxation.

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Protect your time. Don't let anyone interrupt the creative time you set aside for yourself. For Henry, it's at 5:30 a.m., before the rest of his family wakes up.

Get into a "relationship" with art. Whether it's museums or music, Gregg Fraley, creativity consultant and author of Jack's Notebook, a novel about creative problem solving, suggests incorporating art into your life because it can inspire you to approach your work in new ways. Fraley recently started playing guitar.

Write down your ideas. Fraley says people have lots of good ideas, but they ignore and then forget them. He suggests keeping a notebook handy.

When you're stuck, take a break. Brad Fregger, author of Get Things Done: Ten Secrets of Creating and Leading Exceptional Teams, says whenever his employees were struggling with a creative problem, he asked them to work on something else for an hour. That mental break allowed them to see their problem with a new perspective and make a breakthrough, he says.

Seek support from your supervisors. Marty Sklar, executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, says employees can waste valuable time and energy worrying about whether management will support their creative endeavors. Feeling supported by higher-ups is essential to productivity.

Work with people across a variety of experience levels. Some of the best ideas for Disney theme park adventures have come from people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, Sklar says, so don't count out the older generation. Younger workers can often learn from their experience.

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Never dismiss someone's idea as stupid. "If you tell someone they have a stupid idea, you'll probably never get another one from them," says Sklar. Plus, he adds, ideas that appear dumb at first often generate new, useful ideas. When listening to ideas from coworkers during brainstorming sessions, try to be encouraging so no one feels shut down.