water flowing down onto a lightbulb whose inner filaments are liquifying from the change and throwing off droplets, black and white Image by Sharon Pittaway

Creativity is an essential skill for a variety of professions. For internal communicators, its a skill to help find the right approaches and messages to resonate and stick with employees. My colleague Daniel Méndez tells me how he used music and the creation of a sound studio to help build a campaign to roll out the mission, vision and values for a Chilean mining company that required workers to go into (and live near the mines in the Andes mountains) for weeks at a time. Collaborating with young workers, he and his team collected their feedback to create a song with key messages. His creativity as a musician was important to help him accomplish the task of engaging employees and building the culture.

“When you’re embedded in something as a hobby, it’s difficult to separate it from your professional world,” says Daniel who by day now works as an internal communications leader at a large healthcare company. But by night, he’s still that same musician and songwriter who embodied his message in music for the miners. We met in 2022 as part of an ICology panel discussing how the arts can strengthen creativity, soft skills and collaboration for and among employees.

As demand for soft skills such as empathy and creativity continues to grow, it’s worthwhile to pay attention to how to foster these qualities in ourselves and to also note that the benefits go beyond our performance at work and penetrate into our personal lives. According to the World Economic Forum, creativity is the one skill that will most future-proof a potential employee. Between 2015 and 2020, creativity advanced in the ranked list of top skills from the #10 position to #3.

The Arts: Collaboration Educators

Greg Monaco, founder of brand consultancy Monaco Lange, held a day-long exploration of the principles of improv to change how his team worked together. In competitive industries like advertising, employees compete aggressively with each other because often monetary gain and advancement are the result when their idea “gets chosen” by the client over their co-worker’s. Organizational cultures can be unhealthy under this kind of “I win, you lose” paradigm. The improv artist shifted the competitive focus of the agency’s employees so they were oriented to winning as a collective and away from individual gain.

Engaging in the arts impacts our individual. In her book How Creativity Rules the World, art advisor and author, Maria Brito dispels the many myths about creativity, including that it is something that’s only for artists. Artistic talent and creativity are different things and creativity is simply a muscle we can all cultivate. In my work with clients, I find human-centered, visual design ignites different parts of the brain we aren’t used to using at work. Using a tool called LUMA Workplace, I’m able to coach others by using visuals and patterns to uncover creativity and to help percolate up ideas that might never have been shared before.

Make Creativity Part of Your Self-Care

Daniel’s current employer offers a variety of self-care resources such as employee resource groups and mental health resources, but also a corporate art program employees can use to visit art museums and engage with the local arts community in the New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey area. In California, design and make technology software company Autodesk offers a health stipend to employees that includes pre-tax dollars that can be used on things like music lessons.

Creativity is a crucial component of business success. It allows companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors, solve complex problems, and reframe challenges in innovative ways. But fostering creativity in the workplace is not always easy. And while spending on wellness programs is booming, the mentality of quantifying creativity in terms of results it creates for business is wrong. Business needs to start institutionalizing measuring the creativity of its employees.