Panelists at BizQuest. Photo courtesy of 425 Business.

Kids are creative. Give a 5-year-old a few blocks and she’ll start building. Children often don’t have pause before they start playing with tools or ideas. But sometimes, adults do. At KidsQuest Children’s Museum’s BizQuest event on June 8, a panel of experts discussed creativity in the office — how to support employees who want to think outside the box. KidsQuest president and event moderator Putter Bert posed the question: Kids are born creative, but where does that creative spark go when we become adults?

“I don’t think it goes anywhere,” said Greg Coomer, a product designer at the video game company Valve. “The removal of constraints and a safe space for creativity is what it takes to bring that back out for people who aren’t children anymore.”

Below, we’ve outlined some key points on what these experts recommend for companies to prevent the creative spark from burning out.

The Physical Workspace

Creative employees need space to think. An open floorplan is often where inventive employees work best. When Valve was getting started, the company designed an office with walled off rooms. But they found that workers would move their work stations into large conference rooms to collaborate with each other. Later, they knocked all their walls down.

A Safe Space to Collaborate

Everyone at the company should feel they can contribute an idea. When creative teams share their projects and processes and allow others (who may not work in a creative role) to contribute, ideas only get better. Sometimes, the wackier the idea, the better. “People who challenge you as a leader is where creativity lies,” said Coomer.

Creativity can Drive Profits

It’s easy for leaders to get swept away with everyday responsibilities and let creativity fall by the wayside. But creative thinking can solve major problems and greatly contribute to the health of a company. “Leaders have to believe there is a linear connection between creativity and taking risks and the bottom line — making a profit,” said David Allen, executive vice president at McKinstry.

Finding Success through Failure

Not all creative ideas blossom. In fact, most of them fail. Team members need to feel that they can fail in order to think critically and take risks. Plus, there’s never a failure you can’t learn from. “If you want people to be creative, then you have to embrace failure,” said Caroline Boren, a communications and marketing consultant at WE Communications and Simplicity.

Strategic Creative Thinking

Free time to be creative isn’t always productive.  According to Boren, it’s important to have employees experiment around a particular problem or project. Free time to think is key, but giving employees a specific issue to ponder is essential.

Getting out of the Office

Traveling can reignite creative thinking. Going to another part of the world can help people gain perspective or see things in a new way. But simply visiting other cultural areas within your own city or other offices can help you think about your own environment in a new way.

Turn a Problem into a Plus

Social media caused new problems for airline companies. Suddenly, any customer could publicly complain about their delayed flights or bad experiences. When Alaska Airlines was wrestling with this, the customer care team spoke up. What if they embraced communication with customers through social media — make their social media channels a platform where customer problems could be solved. By doing so, they improved customer care and publicly reinforced their brand.

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