Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

Some Research on Creativity at Work

Adapted from: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best” by Ed Glassman (2016).

Before my workshop on creativity, I asked participants to fill out a questionnaire so I could fine-tune the workshop to their specific needs.

About 450 people in R&D, marketing, and manufacturing in six Fortune-500 companies responded. To appreciate their answer to one question, please write your own response before reading further:

 When I am creating, I feel…

Almost all respondents said they had good feelings:

They used words like excited, fulfilled, joyful, good, enthusiastic, insightful, stimulated, enjoyable, intense, fun, happy, delighted;

They wrote staying creative made them feel good, satisfied, useful, energetic, alert; other answers included challenged, worthwhile, energized.

About 3% listed negative feelings, such as feeling anxious, frustrated, timid, stressed, disturbed, bothered, mainly because of anticipated negative reactions from colleagues.

Learn from these comments to lead your team more effectively.

First, encourage enjoyment and satisfaction in work to help people stay creative as problem solvers on the job and boost creative outcomes.

Second, use the sheer enjoyment of creative thinking to provide an inner reason for your people to stay creative. Help people focus their daily work on the instant enjoyment and fun inherent in creative thinking.

A manager told me about one leader who greeted his people with: “Are you having fun today?” If they answered yes, he asked them to share the fun with him. If they answered no, he asked what he could do to help them have fun.

Use the approach: “Are you having fun today?” to focus people on their inner motivators and the desire to stay creative: the good feelings, the enjoyment and the fun that people report feeling when they create.

Let us continue with responses to other statements in my pre-workshop questionnaire. Please jot down your own responses to:

“The biggest help to my creative thinking at work…”

 “The biggest obstacle to my creative thinking at work…”

 “I need the following from my job environment to stay more creative…”

The main responses from 93 R&D chemists and engineers to the statement in my questionnaire: “The biggest help to my creative thinking at work is…” including the actual numbers of R&D chemists and engineers who mentioned this item:

a. Support and encouragement from other people (25 people); b. Sharing ideas with other people (17); c. Time (14); d. Challenging task; adventurous feelings (11); e. Freedom (8); f. Being alone (8); g. Perceived a problem to be solved (7); h. Rewards, credit, acknowledgment (5); i. Miscellaneous (9).

Forty-two (combined items ‘a’ and ‘b’ above) of these chemists and engineers (almost half) mentioned interaction with other people as the biggest help to their creative thinking at work.

Surprisingly, freedom did not rank first (item e), and only eight people listed ‘being alone.’ (item ‘f’).

One conclusion: Leaders need to treat people differently so all types become self-motivated to stay creative. Adopt the attitude that everyone gets special treatment at work.

I found similar results in a Fortune-500 company involving 20 R&D managers, 32 R&D supervisors, and 24 of their subordinates who responded to “The biggest help to my creative thinking is…..” in the following way:

Support and encouragement from other people (14); Sharing ideas with others (25); Supervision (4); Time (19); Challenge (2); Freedom (18); Being alone (3); Perceived a problem to be solved (0);  Rewards, recognition, acknowledgment (0); Overcoming personal limitations (4); Resources (2); My internal resources (4).

(Note: The totals exceed the number of people, since some people wrote more than one thing.)

Again no one listed rewards. They wrote support, encouragement, and sharing ideas with other people as the biggest help; they also listed time and freedom. The similarity between these and the responses above strikes me as significant.

Lest you think only R&D personnel respond this way, I present a summary of how 54 non-R&D people responded:

Other people (B); Time (7); Climate (8); Challenge (3); Freedom (4); Miscellaneous (4). This sample includes mostly managers and professionals in marketing, human resources, and manufacturing from 34 Fortune-500 companies. Again no one mentioned rewards.

I categorized responses from 24 managers in three large International Fortune-500 Companies in England as: Other people (12); Freedom (6); Challenge (2); Time (2), Climate (2); Understand job (2); Rewards (1); Miscellaneous (3). Though few in number, these people appear similar to managers and professionals in the United States.

Interestingly, no one mentioned vendors or customers as the biggest help to creative thinking. Not using customers in this way does not fit the stated goals of these market oriented firms. One lesson: Use vendors to help creative output since vendors do want to help.

One R&D scientist actually wrote: “The biggest help to my creativity is … when my boss leaves town. Was he writing about you?

Overall, these results indicate that many people perceive that other people provide the biggest help to their creative thinking. This provides an important clue on how team leaders can spur creative output.

First: Encourage and build in activities so people interact more frequently, exchanging and discussing each other’s ideas.

Second: Bring in an occasional expert professional to help people’s ideas.

Third: Arrange for more creative thinking in small groups during regular meetings. For example, make it a norm that buzz groups define and generate ideas to help solve at least one problem in every meeting of your work group. This will help the exchange of ideas and enhance creative thinking.

“The Biggest Obstacle in My Job Environment To My Creative Thinking…”

What blocks creative thinking at work? A few people mentioned personal limitations, newness to the job, lack of creative thinking skills, etc.

However, almost all the comments from the 450 respondents included conditions you can control: lack of time; lack of freedom; abundance of quick negative criticism; distractions; low encouragement; low acceptance of new ideas; ineffective meetings. Some wrote about cautious management styles; red tape; lack of appreciation; unsuitable rewards.

Others blamed limited resources; overload of work; interruptions; demands of others; the need to stay productive rather than creative; limited communication; mountains of paperwork.

The good news: you can correct most of these in your workplace.

“I Need The Following From My Job Environment To Be More Creative…”

What stimulates on-the-job creative thinking?

The 450 respondents concentrated on: more talking to others; more time; more freedom; less red tape, paperwork and routine jobs; better resources; more respect as a professional; more recognition for innovation; better communications; an atmosphere that encourages originality; fewer meetings; better teamwork; fewer penalties for failure; fewer interruptions; more supportive atmosphere.

As one person wrote: “the opportunity to be heard, openness, more participation in selection of assignments, more freedom in selection of approaches, less daily and weekly accounting of activity.”

If you want to find out what spoils creative thinking or how to stimulate creative output in your group, ask your people either directly or through questionnaires.

Create your own questionnaires if needed. If this process overwhelms you, obtain the help of consultants who can facilitate the process and ensure favorable outcomes.

And checkout my NEW 2016 book:


How To Be More Creative Than You Think You Are.”


His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is available.   CLICK here  OR HERE

Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International.

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.