How organizational culture and psychological safety foster our creativity


Organizations must create the right conditions and the right culture for creativity to flourish in order to remain relevant, competitive and thrive for the future. An addiction to burnout and a fixation on productivity can stifle creativity. According to Steph South and Priyanka DSouza, what is needed is psychological safety, inclusion, experimentation, growth mindsets and time for reflection.

Steph South, Global HR Business Partner, and Priyanka DSouza, Global HR Consultant, spoke about promoting creativity and developing our creative force at A day of organizational psychological safety by Aginext.

According to South, creativity and burnout have an inverse relationship:

The more we experience burnout, the less we will use our creative muscle. That is, more burnout, less creativity.

DSouza mentioned that while productivity is important, we need to recognize that with increasing digitization, uncertainty and changing customer needs, we need to foster a creative mindset; an environment where one does not feel safe to share ideas, questions and collaborate is unlikely to foster creativity, she said.

The biggest obstacle to creativity is the workplace. Organizations must create the right conditions for creativity to flourish in order to create a competitive advantage and thrive for the future, South argued.

Collaborating and being with a team can be great for creativity, as South explained:

When you have ideas and discuss them with others, it stimulates your brain with creativity. It can spark an idea in someone else, and so on.

InfoQ interviewed Steph South and Priyanka DSouza on stimulating creativity.

InfoQ: How are creativity and burnout linked?

Priyanka DSouza: Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. You feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with the constant demands. Creativity and burnout are inversely related.

Steph South: In our talk at Aginext, we talked about the damage that burnout and a fixation on productivity can do to creativity. Think about it: Computers and digital solutions like automation can help us make productivity gains, but computers can’t be creative. Therefore, as human beings, we must harness our creativity in order to remain relevant now and in the future.

InfoQ: You started your session at Aginext on psychological safety with a mindfulness practice. Why mindfulness? What can people get out of it?

South: I started with a brief mindfulness practice so that participants could have a first-hand experience of mindfulness and meditation. The practice was a compassionate meditation. When we do compassionate meditations, it strengthens and enlarges areas of the brain associated with well-being and reduces areas associated with suffering.

As a species, humans depend on each other – we need other humans to survive. Therefore, we succeed when we collaborate rather than compete. When humans compete, stress levels rise, the brain’s fight-or-flight mechanisms kick in, we are less innovative, and we are more likely to have a fixed mindset. Conversely, when we collaborate creativity and innovation are activated and we are more likely to have a growth mindset. The reward mechanisms in the brain activate.

As today’s work is primarily based on teamwork, we need to collaborate to be effective and solve complex business problems. The practice of conscious compassion makes us more effective team members; we are more likely to collaborate and build trust, which is a building block of psychological safety.

InfoQ: What can individuals do to stimulate creativity?

DSouza: Keep an open mind, voluntarily surround yourself with people with different backgrounds, cultures and be curious. Walking around on a busy day to be present in the present moment, thinking about how something can be approached differently, asking “why”, soliciting ideas and new ways of approaching problems all stimulate creativity. At Aginext, we imagined going into space. Letting yourself be imagined, without barriers as to why you can’t achieve something, and making it a practice are all great ideas for stimulating creativity.

South: The World Economic Forum (2020) announced creativity as one of the top 3 skills for the future. We all have the ability to be creative and develop this skill. As Priyanka says, it’s a practice – a creative practice. Let your mind wander, take a walk yourself. Be curious, find interest in people and things around you. This will help create new connections.

Individuals could use the principles of design thinking in their own practice of stimulating creativity, for example, by taking two random objects or words and connecting them, or considering how famous / fictional characters would approach a situation or problem. , or by observing how people in different roles and industries approach problem solving, and how they get creative. It can provide your own ideas.

InfoQ: How to boost creativity in a group or as a team?

South: In this ever-changing world, we need to help people be more receptive and resilient to change. Mindfulness can help. Being able to express ourselves freely and creatively can also help. In such an environment, we are more likely to have psychological security.

At Aginext, we’ve covered some fun group activities for teams to stimulate creativity that can be done in person or remotely. These include drawing tasks such as everyone drawing their super power, or having a line on a page, and then each individually finishing that line (each always drawing something different); or tasks using objects such as taking two disconnected elements and listing the ways in which those elements could be used together, or taking an object and finding as many uses for it as possible.

Nowadays, many companies use hackathons as a way to solve an existing problem and then use a diverse group of people to brainstorm possible solutions. The possibilities for group exercises and individual practices are endless.

InfoQ: What did you learn?

DSouza: The value of being fully present in the moment, of being aware of where you are, of what you are doing and of keeping an open mind. It helped me not to feel overwhelmed by what I didn’t do or worry about things beyond my control. I feel more resourceful knowing that I can cultivate a creative mindset by putting into practice tips, ideas that are easy to implement with my team members and also on a personal level.

South: I found it surprising that a lot of people don’t see themselves as creative. However, everyone I have met overcame this limiting belief through practice. This is something we can all improve on. Personally, I have learned that I can take a step back, take breaks, create more time and moments of reflection for myself, and still be successful.


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