Unlocking creative potential – the science behind getting our best work done

Innovation requires change. And all change requires creativity.

October 05, 2023

Where people work has been the subject of unprecedented debate in recent years. As many companies grapple with how to best manage long-term hybrid work, there is a greater opportunity to shift the focus from the limited issue of location to something with far greater potential to deliver value: learning how to unleash the creative potential inherent in every one of us.

With the right knowledge, we can begin to design an environment and mode of working that unlock full human potential, which benefits the individual, their employers and society.

Unlocking creative potential

From adaptability and agility to innovation, creativity is at the heart of what businesses need to thrive. And it’s not relevant just to those in creative industries. In every sector, from pharmaceuticals to finance, understanding what employees need to think and act creatively holds the potential to build resilience in a business and happiness for individuals.

“Everyone has creative potential,” says Ben Hamley, data-driven design, innovation and strategy director for APAC at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). “The natural diversity of perspectives is super-important for companies to be able to transform, do new work or create new value in the future. More than anything else, companies have to enable their employees to realize that potential. Talented people look for workplaces where creative work thrives—where they can do the best work of their life.”

For Hamley, employment is an activity increasingly dominated by knowledge. As the information age rapidly becomes the age of artificial intelligence (AI), it’s crucial that organizations create a healthy working environment for the human mind. There’s a danger that returning to the bland corporate offices people left in 2020—designed to promote homogeneity rather than encourage individuality—will stifle that. Little wonder many have stayed home.

“Talented people look for workplaces where creative work thrives—where they can do the best work of their life.”

Ben Hamley, Data-driven Design, Innovation and Strategy Director, APAC, JLL

“We think for a living, and the quality of our thinking determines the quality of our work,” he says, welcoming the recognition that mental health and well-being are essential to performance.

Embracing the science of work

Hamley is instrumental in JLL’s development of the Science of Work to support “companies to help their employees do their work wherever they are.”

To facilitate this, he’s turned to the insights of Dr. Andy Walshe. A global expert in the field of elite human performance, Walshe works with teams across sports, business, culture and the military, and has extensively researched the science of human creativity.

“Creativity equals courage,” says Walshe. “It applies equally to anybody. Organizations need to establish a model where people can be comfortable on the edge—that’s the challenge.”

Walshe has worked in extreme environments of all kinds—from high-octane to high-altitude—previously leading performance programs with Red Bull, where he was involved with everything from Formula One to the Stratos “space jump” project. To Walshe, creativity means “you’re pushing hard, you’re prototyping, you’re testing—it gives you room to try things out and experiment and learn and grow really quickly.” Other workplaces, he says, can also reach for “creativity in the context of performance” to drive a competitive advantage.

“If you’re observing a certain framework in any given industry at any level and you see a different way of doing it with a more efficient process—or when it comes to a product, maybe inventing a new technique, tactic or tool—you have a chance to gain some advantage,” he says.

Both Hamley and Walshe identify one critical factor in constructing an environment that enables innovative thinking: establishing an inclusive and diverse workforce that accesses a multitude of creative styles.

Harnessing the power of that diverse creativity requires nourishing innate human talent. Walshe says this is “most challenging to support and partner with to achieve or improve, because it typically can’t be measured in the quantitative sense.”

Testing the landscape

Quantifying the unquantifiable requires an innovative approach. Walshe began searching for answers in 2015 with Hacking Creativity. This “research project into the ecology of human creativity” mapped relationships between creative habits by surveying over ten thousand people to better understand how humans can do their best creative work.

One of the study’s most important findings was that there is no single way to be creative. Through advanced ecological network analytics, seven creative styles were identified, each with a different set of habits and attitudes toward work, allowing individuals to realize their distinct creative potential.

As part of its exploration into the Science of Work, JLL and Walshe are collaborating on a project that will bring the findings of Hacking Creativity to a wider audience. It allows people to identify and understand their style and the conditions they need to get their best work done.

These types range from Twilight Trailblazers (Solo Noctus) to Collaborative Explorers (Socialis Adventurous). The first are tenacious and dedicated night owls who thrive in wide-open terrains. The second are morning people and highly social risk-takers who enjoy finding new landscapes in which to work.

Then there’s the Solitary Stabilizer (Mono Routinus), which grows best alone in enclosed spaces, dislikes risk but likes routine. It’s not suited to life with Social Catalysts (Novo Gregarious)—collaborators who thrive with others and love music and lively conversation.

Extending the science

Embracing this research, JLL is linking the Science of Creativity with the Science of Experience to develop a new approach to the way we think about work.

High performers in any field have established habits and metrics that they regularly use to optimize their efforts. At JLL, the use of “human experience analytics” gives a detailed picture of how their employees experience work wherever they are.

This approach to the Science of Work builds on previous studies, such as the workplace neuroscience research that JLL conducted in 2022. Among other insights, this study found that people work better together in the morning, and that even when working on individual tasks, people perform better in the presence of others.

The application of these insights can provide more detailed information on the power of workplace experience to support people in reaching their potential.

Creativity research adds another layer. Creative styles influence an individual’s requirements and preferences for ways of working, as well as the environment in which they’ll flourish.

When it comes to making evidence-informed decisions about the future of work, very few organizations have moved beyond simplistic measures, such as utilization and cost. While this is important, Hamley says that companies are focused on the wrong thing. “The most creative companies see their work as a learning experience. They provide tailored support and coaching to grow—rather than simply attract—talent.” For the companies that get it right, resilience and innovation await.

This powerful combination of data and insight is helping JLL shape the future of work, developing work-focused environments for everyone to be their best and do their finest, most creative work.

Work Science

Unlock human potential with science

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