Inspiring Spaces to Boost Creative Confidence


At Work Design, being digital, a lot of information comes across our phones, laptops and computer monitors as we follow what is important in work place planning and design. Recently, the amount of content discussing how the”happiness” quotient contributes to creating great places to work has grown. The elements that make up the spaces we design and the places we provide employees contribute to their wellbeing (emotional, mental and physical). To dig deeper and add to the conversation, we reached out to our key work place thought leaders.

In the following article, Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCR, Principal, Applied Research + Consulting, Steelcase, shares new insights on creativity. Beyond our traditional views of creative work, the new creativity requires fresh approaches to people, process and place. In addition, there is an important connection to happiness. Places that create the conditions for creativity also create the conditions for wellbeing – leading to happier people. These are places that support people in expressing their creativity, building their creative confidence and contributing to great outcomes. They are the places we want don’t just have to work, but want to work to be — happy!

Inspiring Spaces to Boost Creative Confidence

Image courtesy of Steelcase.

We are entering a brand new era – a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – which promises to fundamentally change everything about our lives, including our work. It is a technological revolution that will outpace and dwarf anything in our previous experience (i). These new technological advances offer organizations opportunities as well as significant competition and plenty of disruption. To be successful in this complex world, businesses won’t be able to cut costs as a path to growth, rather they will need to innovate in order to grow. This increasing drive for growth and innovation is causing a macro shift in the need for more creative work.

But we may not have the skills we’ll need to thrive in this new world.

The critical skills have everything to do with creative confidence. We’ll need to tap creative cognition, inspire creative collaboration, foster creative communities and leverage creative action. Designing and solving for creative work matters – a lot. In fact, 77 percent of workers believe creativity will be a critical job skill in the future (ii). Yet, fully 69 percent of employees believe they are not living up to their creative potential (iii). This gap is more important than ever – a challenge for people, teams and organizations as we deal with increasingly complex challenges, greater necessity for networked collaboration and the coming age of artificial intelligence. In fact, advanced computing and AI will take over rote, process-oriented tasks leaving humans with new requirements to solve problems, generate ideas, and discover new opportunities.

We face a creative gap and this distance between necessary capabilities and reality can be rooted in our experiences. When she was in third grade, our daughter came home from school traumatized by an art teacher who had broken off the head of the lion she was sculpting for a class project. It didn’t fit the teacher’s vision and was therefore wrong by the teacher’s standards. Unfortunately, if you get people talking, many of them will share similar stories – negative experiences shaped by judgements about creativity that were narrowly defined as a certain type of skill, capability or way of seeing. These experiences stifle our creative behaviors and, over time, we learn to guard ideas and our creative confidence fades.

Image courtesy of Steelcase.

Creativity, however, is much broader than what we think of traditionally. Beyond an ability to draw or sculpt or paint, it’s the capacity to generate ideas, solve difficult problems and exploit new opportunities. It’s not a rare gift reserved for the few, rather it’s an innate human ability we all share. Schools and workplaces that foster and catalyze creativity have the right idea – the key is to make sure we broaden our definition of creativity and create the conditions for creative confidence to flourish.

Creating the conditions to foster creativity and encourage everyone to tackle complex problems – not just those in certain jobs or levels – is good for people and companies. Empowering people throughout a community speeds decision making, increases idea generation and gives employees a greater sense of purpose (iv). When people tap into creativity in their day-to-day work, they ask questions that drive new thinking about old problems, inspire new approaches to generate value and suggest new connections for collaboration.

But this kind of creative environment requires cultural and organizational shifts:

  • From a hierarchical approach that values structure and level-based decision making, to a networked model that emphasizes collaboration and problem solving.
  • From a focus on creative roles where certain people or teams are given the charge to employ creativity, to creative capability in which creativity is an organizational capacity empowered in all.
  • From technology as a point of status and reward, to technology as a transformative tool provided with equality because it is essential for all.
  • From a rules-based culture where senior-level people set boundaries, to a culture of empowerment with matrixed networks and distributed leadership.

Because creativity isn’t what we think it is.

It’s not just teams coming up with wild ideas in brightly colored rooms with plenty of post-it notes and toys on the table to aid inspiration. It’s the ebb and flow between different types of work, states of mind and perspectives.

Image courtesy of Steelcase.

The physical environment needs to support these cycles of work as does the culture. Place helps to shape behavior and those behaviors over time create culture. If we want cultures where innovation and growth thrive, we must encourage a creative culture with a new vision of creativity – one that acknowledges the tensions in the creative process. These are the ‘ands’ that define how work gets done through the power of creativity.

  • Creativity isn’t only about group collaboration. It also requires individual focus. Exposure to diverse perspectives and the thinking of the group is important, but so is the time for quiet reflection and the incubation of ideas.
  • Creativity doesn’t just encompass the realm of ideas. It also involves action. Creativity requires divergence, and plenty of new ideas that move in multiple directions. But it also entails convergent thinking in which we cull, select, prioritize and take action.
  • Creativity isn’t just about immersing ourselves in the problem, it also benefits from distance and the opportunity to get away, rejuvenate and seek inspiration outside the boundaries of the problem.
  • Creativity doesn’t just solve known problems, it also anticipates problems, proactively seeks out problems and solves them in new ways.
Image courtesy of Steelcase.

This new vision of creativity and this new way of working must inform and inspire the way we shape our physical environments including the technology that is a part of the employee experience. Through a collaboration with Microsoft, Steelcase has created an ecosystem of spaces integrating people, places and devices. They support both individual and group work as well as fixed and mobile technology. These are designed and curated to support the different stages and activities of creative work including focus, prototyping, idea generation, shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration and respite.

Based on extensive prototyping, the global design team from Steelcase identified three core design principles to support creative behaviors and needs.

  • Emotional Connection. Create a place where people feel an emotional connection. Make the space welcoming, engaging, and emotionally and physically comfortable, supporting a variety of postures (sitting, standing, perching or lounging) and encouraging exploration of the space and technology.
  • Nurture Confidence. Provide equal access to spaces, tools and technology to encourage empowered participation. Contribute toward creative confidence by incorporating elements such as large-scale computing devices, integrating technology supporting visualization of ideas and providing for privacy and control over the environment.
  • Fluid Ecosystem. Build a fluid ecosystem of spaces allowing people to work in ways that mirror the creative process. From preparing and incubating to illuminating and verifying (v), spaces that give people choice and control over where and how they get their work done based on their point in the creative process will be most relevant. In addition, ensure continuous connectivity so people and ideas can flow between tools and spaces seamlessly.

Ultimately, creating space for creative work results in organizational competence which is both impossible to replicate and differentiating. This is a recipe for innovation and growth. Individuals and teams that build creative muscle, capability and capacity strengthen the processes through which creativity thrives developing into a virtuous cycle within the organization.

Creating the culture and the behaviors we want to foster can be supported through the physical space. In turn, the space and culture can create an organization whose people are fulfilled and who feel a sense of purpose and creative confidence. And these are indispensable as we embark on the journey toward a brand new era of fundamental and unprecedented change – the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution (vi).’



i Klaus Schwab, economist and author.

ii Steelcase Creativity and the Future of Work Survey, 2017.

iii Adobe State of Create, 2016.

iv Brower, Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations, 2014.

v Graham Wallas’ formative 4-stage model which pioneered creative thinking in the 1920s.

vi Klaus Schwab, economist and author.

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