Articles in business magazines routinely tout the need for entrepreneurs to be creative. Less often do these publications address the need for employees to flex their creative muscles.

However, there’s compelling evidence that creativity is not only a valuable skill, but a driver of economic success that businesses at all levels would do well to encourage.

Employers Recognize the Need for Creativity

In 2016 the World Economic Forum released a report based on a survey of Chief Human Resource Officers and “other senior talent and strategy executives of leading global employers.” More than 13 million employees across nine broad industry sectors in 15 major developed and emerging economies were represented in the report. 

There is a growing demand for cognitive and content skills, both of which include creativity in their definition. In fact, in the WEF’s survey of the most in-demand job skills, they rank in positions one and four, respectively.

This need is borne out in today’s market. A 2016 report by the Australian Council of Learned Academies looked at leading innovative companies and found that by blending STEM skills with business and creative skills (humanities, arts and social sciences) those businesses were able to generate better innovations that allowed them to create, and commercialize, new products and services.

It’s clear that for a company to grow or even simply remain stable, creative employees are a necessity.

Creativity is Linked to Economic Prosperity so it’s Needed in the Workplace

The Martin Prosperity Institute, a program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has a tool to measure the economic growth and sustainable prosperity of 139 countries: The Global Creativity Index (GCI).

This measure, and the accompanying report, does not define “creative” the way we often think of it. GCI takes into account three factors, talent, technology, and tolerance, and ranks countries based on how well they perform in each of these very human areas. Technologically savvy workforces that are open to new ideas and demonstrate that they are capable earn their countries a high ranking on the index.

Countries that ranked the highest in 2015 include: Australia at number one, supplanting Sweden; the United States second (maintaining its previous ranking), New Zealand third and Canada fourth. Denmark and Finland tied for fifth and the rest of the top ten includes Sweden seventh, Iceland eighth, Singapore ninth, and the Netherlands tenth. 

The GCI, by redefining and expanding the word “creative,” allows it to apply to those who create physically and technically outside the fine arts. The report states:

“The creative class includes workers in science and technology and engineering; arts, culture, entertainment, and the media; business and management; and education, healthcare, and law. Here again we see the incredible variation and unevenness across the world from just one percent to more than 50 percent of the workforce. The creative class makes up 40 percent or more of the workforce in 18 nations across the globe.”

Clearly not everyone in the top-performing countries is an entrepreneur or a successful visual artist. That means many of them are simply hardworking employees. 

Creativity Takes Businesses to the Next Level

The technical innovations of Silicon Valley, ranging from the self-driving car to ubiquitous social media platforms, are strong examples of creativity leading to innovations and business success.

However, this is no 21st century development. There are other examples that pre-date today’s technology-focused culture. 

In 1948, 3M launched its “15 percent” program which allowed employees to use 15 percent of their paid time to pursue passion projects and come up with their own ideas.

This creative approach to employee management paid off in 1974 when scientist Art Fry came up with a now-essential office tool: the Post-It Note. He wanted to apply an adhesive to the back of a piece of paper in order could create the perfect bookmark. The results far exceeded his original goal.

When management supports employees by giving them the time and opportunity to be creative, the creative employees will deliver great results.

How to Inspire Creative Employees

As demonstrated above, creativity that leads to innovative products or services doesn’t happen without the appropriate time and support. It’s important to give employees the space to create and not simply expect lightning bolts of creativity to strike them.

Let employees know that failure is part of the process. Examples abound of great creative achievements coming from people who had been counted out by traditional gatekeepers. Walt Disney was turned down by the Kansas City Star for a cartoonist position. Sir James Dyson made 5,127 prototypes of his now famous vacuum cleaner. 

Finally, to facilitate true creative innovation, encourage your workforce to find their own approaches. Each person will problem-solve, question and create differently. By respecting this diversity and giving each person time to share their vision, the best ideas will have the opportunity to surface.