Creative prison or Creative paradise?

Andy Haldane is the Bank of England's chief economist. In a recent speech he gave online to the Engaging Business Summit, he stated correctly that the pandemic had re-shaped our working lives, our economic contributions and our well-being.

Creative prison or Creative paradise?

Andy Haldane is the Bank of England’s chief economist. In a recent speech he gave online to the Engaging Business Summit, he stated correctly that the pandemic had re-shaped our working lives, our economic contributions and our well-being. He also said that creativity was a core skill because it fostered innovation, which in turn fuelled growth of the economy. Again, this is absolutely correct.

However, the main thrust of his argument was that working from home risked stifling creativity because it cut people off from new experiences. He said that the absence of face to face contact with colleagues in the flesh meant that social capital was being eroded while creative sparks were being dampened.

In this respect, Mr. Haldane is incorrect. Here are three reasons why.

Introvert versus extrovert, that is the question

During the last twenty years of my career as a management trainer, I have either worked for a small business or I have operated as an independent running a small agency. I have been at my happiest, most productive, most creative when squirreled away in my home office, door shut, undisturbed. That’s because, by nature, I am an introvert. 

Self-confessed introverts like J.K Rowling and Barack Obama get their creative energies from the inside rather than the outside. Too much human contact acts an extinguisher of creativity. On the other hand, extroverts like Margaret Thatcher, Muhammed Ali and Steve Jobs were energised by the presence of people around them. An overdose of isolation has the opposite effect. This is simply human nature. It took me a number of years, in fact most of my career, to discover this, but once discovered, I have guarded this right to solitude fiercely! 

And although Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the world at large, I must confess, with a slightly guilty conscience, that I have never felt more energised or creatively productive. Imposed lockdowns have given me the perfect ‘get out jail’ card to remain in glorious isolation. 

The workplace is not designed for creativity

This summer, GENIUS YOU published a Creativity Study. In between 2015 and 2020, over 2000 surveys had been completed by individuals from 17 major international organisations across 10 different sectors. The survey helped people understand their creative strengths. 

It also contained one open-ended question which asked respondents to comment on the state of creativity and innovation in their own company. A number of key themes emerged that represented obstacles to a creative workplace. Time poverty and the burden of process overload accounted for 23% of all responses. One response sums things up nicely: Our biggest downfall within the business is not giving enough time to creative thinking. We need to put importance on thinking as much as doing. The team are constantly executing projects but spend little time crafting new ideas.

In his speech, Mr. Haldane also said: But I also feel the loss of working relationships and external stimuli ‘ the chance conversations, listening to very different people with very different lived experiences. In the GENIUS YOU 2020 creativity study, two factors accounted for just over 40% of responses when it came to barriers to creativity. Firstly a lack of internal sharing and cross pollination, and secondly, an insufficient amount of time spent brainstorming in workshops. Those ‘chance conversations’ that Mr. Haldane refers to appear to be as frequent as shooting stars in the night sky. The modern-day workplace is not cut out for creativity. It’s far too structured.

Creating your home office oasis

Mr. Haldane also maintains that home-working means serendipity is supplanted by scheduling, face to face by Zoom-to-Zoom. Admittedly, I am blessed by being in control of my own agenda, but these are the highlights of my working day:

0630 Wake up and shower to release all those ideas the sub-conscious has been forming over-night.

0700 Start working in my home office. It’s full of colour all around. Post-it notes and pens galore. Photos of the family on the wall in front. Framed images of inspiring seascapes and landscapes behind. Both window ledges packed with potted plants. A balanced book case of work projects and home hobbies.

1100 Visit to the ‘Costa Kitchen for a coffee and catch up with other family members working at home during Lockdown. Time for banter, gossip and some creative chit chat.

1400 Fifteen minutes of fresh air after lunch to get some oxygen back in the lungs.

1500 A 30 minute power nap on the sofa to ensure that both body and mind stay in sync with their Circadian Rhythm. Otherwise known as an ‘internal meeting’. A re-charging of batteries for the afternoon surge.

1800 A 45 minute HIIT session in the makeshift gym in the garage to decompress and give the endorphins a run around.

2230 A steaming hot bath to reward the body and mind for their efforts during the day and prep them for the night ahead.

So, it’s either that or the jam-packed 07.42 from Guildford to London and the jam-packed 18.36 back. And a day full of back to back meetings in window less offices in-between. 5 days a week.

Mr. Haldane, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way in which we work forever. I am not arguing for an either or. 5 days in the office versus 5 days at home. But let’s work hard to find a balance, where we can meet the needs of both employees and employers. 

And remember one person’s creative paradise is another’s creative prison.

Mark Simmonds
Mark Simmonds

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