Fostering Creative Change in the Workplace

May 31, 2012

By emilyb

After long days at work, Stan Gryskiewicz and his wife had a routine. They'd make dinner together while catching up, and then, at promptly 7:15 p.m., they'd call for their sons.

"Set the table!" They'd say, and the boys would emerge, ready to set the dinner table.

One night, with his wife out of town, Gryskiewicz had an idea.

"Set the table, under the table!" He called to his sons.

Though he had to repeat it several times for the unusual request to be understood, they did as he asked.

"Dad's into creativity, so ..." said one to the other.

Thus, Gryskiewicz and his sons ate dinner under the table that night--a new, reframed perspective on mealtime.

Reflecting on the Moment

While Gryskiewicz was thinking mainly of his older son during dinner, the son ready to depart for college and likely to encounter all sorts of change and new perspectives, he didn't anticipate the outburst from his younger son, reflecting on the new (and upcoming) arrangement.

"I hate change," Gryskiewicz's youngest son said, gesturing toward his older brother. "When he leaves, it means he's not going to be around to carpool to school together anymore."

It was an unexpected declaration, one which Gryskiewicz says he might have not have been privy to had the changed setting and context not fostered an environment where his son was comfortable sharing such feelings. It sparked an idea Gryskiewicz pondered over in relation to creativity, in which changing the context of a situation or problem can bring forth fresh ideas and perspectives, those potentially otherwise never unearthed. And re-framing or changing a context doesn't need to be as complicated as eating dinner underneath the dinner table. As Gryskiewicz's wife stated when she returned home the following day and heard his story: "Why didn't you just sit in different chairs?"

During the session, "Creative Leadership Techniques for Managing Change in the Workplace" at NAFSA's 2012 Annual Conference & Expo, Gryskiewicz, PhD and consultant on creativity and leadership as well as the author of the book, Positive Turbulence, discussed effective techniques for promoting this kind of creativity, innovation, and change in one's professional life. He visualized creative thinking in terms of a bulls-eye, in which you, the individual, is at the center target. Your team surrounds you as the middle ring of the bulls-eye, and--at the final, outside ring--lies your organization. Surrounding the bulls-eye is your periphery--the people or network outside of yourself, your team, and your organization who might help you brainstorm, solve problems and find resources. This periphery is vital, but far too often unused during creative brainstorming. As Jonah Lehrer reported in this year's New Yorker piece, "Why Brainstorming Doesn't Work," this understanding is why Steve Jobs arranged Pixar Animation Studio's building with only one set of bathrooms, located in the main atrium. It was a way to guarantee that creative employees who would not normally not work together would be forced interact--and it did make a difference.

Facing the Obstacles

Still, there are always obstacles to managing or promoting change in the workplace. If you hear yourself or your colleagues say, "I am not creative enough," or "my organization or company doesn't nurture change," or is "too big to be effective or creative," Gryskiewicz might disagree with you. There are many types of creativity, he says, and creativity is not just about the number of ideas you produce, but also the style of creativity you have, which plays a role in how to foster effective change as a team. If, at work, you accept the nature of your job but are constantly thinking about how to make things better, you might have a "resourceful" style of creativity. If you typically challenge standing frameworks, always looking to do things differently, you might be an "original" creative thinker.

When working in a group, it helps for each member to recognize the style of creativity they bring to the table, so they can communicate with each other about their working habits and common goals. If you work at a large organization which seems to "eat up" potential for creativity, consider how slow such organizations often move in a bureaucratic sense. You might have a chance in the meantime to create small, piecemeal changes, adding up to greater, long-term transformation.

Additionally, Gryskiewicz states, it helps if you are able to use "3-G" strategic planning--in other words, at least three generations of colleagues represented in each group.

Finally, remember to be patient. Change does not happen overnight; it can take a long time for effective change to become part of a structure, sometimes long after the generation of an idea. As William Coyle, former head of research at 3M once said, "After you plant a seed in the ground, you don't dig it up every week to see how it's doing."

Missed Stan Gryskiewicz's session? Join him and NAFSA leader Joel Gallegos for a discussion on creativity and brainstorming from 10:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m. Friday in GRBCC 352 D.