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How HR directors can lead with creativity

Creativity is often edited out as we get older. Yet it is a key human value that is often missing in organisations today.

Ask a five-year-old to draw a house, and they will do so without thinking. Ask a 55-year-old and many will refuse. So how do we bring creativity back into play even if it is as simple as the act of visualising and drawing?

How do we step beyond the tyranny of office tools and tap into this core human value again? Did inspiration ever come from a spreadsheet?

Creativity in the workplace:

Creativity or development? Hybrid work plans depend on aims

Workers struggling to be creative and 'think on their feet'

HR's role in organisational creativity and innovation

Creative leadership brings together three values of empathy, clarity and creativity as a way of activating new forms of personal and organisational development.

HR managers, departments and staff are key activators in enabling this, and the ideas, methods and learnings can deliver new tools and frameworks that put the ‘human’ back in HR.

It may sound counterintuitive, but an investment in creative process actually enables a workforce. In 2010, an IBM study of global CEOs acknowledged creativity as a top leadership quality.

In recent years, this has formed the basis for innovation programmes that teach creative thinking and skills to unlock leadership potential.

I have run engagements with business and government to raise the strategic visibility of creativity. We have pushed people to their creative boundaries in training sessions, encouraging civil servants to draw images instead of writing reports, CEOs to roleplay ideas instead of using bullet points, and hospital chiefs to describe the problems of their emergency rooms using images instead of words.

One thing happened every time: in embracing a heightened sense of expression, their work became more informed, innovative, and inspirational.

Creativity is not just about looking good, it is also about doing good. It is multi-handed and multi-perspective, not about entrenching yourself into a single perspective and refusing to change.

Our definition, drawn from design and neuroscience, is: creativity is the ability of an individual or group to utilise their intellect, skills and resources to create solutions, services and products that are novel, useful and relevant.

Recent advances in neuroscience attest to higher brain functions that include spontaneous insight, future-based thinking, planning, decision-making, improvisation and the ability to hold multiple tracks of complex information concurrently. These are all central to creativity, inventiveness, and innovative thinking. 

So, the question is, what stifles creativity? Our research started in the boardroom but is equally applicable in the living room. Common barriers include stifling process, outdated mindset, budget, lack of personal support or allyship, stasis due to risk, overwhelming bureaucracy, lack of time and employee stress.

HR is a powerfully positioned group to effect real change and step beyond these barriers. All of these are within your reach and remit to reduce.

All it needs is a lot of humanity and a little resource. In return, creativity can bring new possibilities and unlimited results.


Rama Gheerawo is director of The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, UK and the author of Creative Leadership, Born From Design