Inspiring Creativity During a Crisis

As each of us navigates through the rapidly unfolding events surrounding the novel coronavirus crisis, we are dealing with much uncertainty and fear. Healthcare systems, public health officials and political leaders are working hard to contain and mitigate COVID-19. And companies, large and small, are grappling with the potential economic fallout.   

In February, I wrote about how to foster meaningful innovation. It’s surreal to think about how much has changed in a months’ time. And while those principles still apply today, company leaders can adapt their approach to successfully guide leadership teams and employees through this rough terrain.  

Throughout history, there have been many examples of innovative thinking borne from critical circumstances. Now, more than ever is the time for leaders in industries across the board to inspire creativity amongst their employees and throughout communities. From developing a new vaccine and opening supply chains to finding new ways to educate children and disseminate needed products and services, creative problem solving is needed in every sector of society.  

Research has shown that companies often miss out on creative opportunities when confronted with a crisis due to the time and high-intensity pressure of the situation. As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, HealthPay24 has shifted to a remote work only model. I’ve found that working from home has presented me with a unique opportunity to spend more quiet time to reflect. One question I’ve been pondering is: how can leaders inspire creativity in the face of unprecedented adversity? Here are some ideas I’ve come up with:

Accept This Challenge As An Opportunity

Embolden your teams to come up with creative ideas that mitigate panic and keep serving your customers. Encourage the exploration of all ideas – both those that would have been viewed as unreasonable before the crisis as well as those that may seem obvious and small.

Be Empathetic

The global spread of COVID-19 is deeply affecting all our lives. With so much unpredictability comes stress and anxiety. Acknowledging fear, showing empathy and communicating with honesty and compassion will build trust and alleviate anxiety while enabling creative thinking to thrive.   

Focus on the Positive

To support the development of new ideas during a time of crisis, leaders should use positive messages to help offset a negative mood that may be present throughout the organization. While it’s important to avoid coming across as tone-deaf, an emphasis on innovative actions and positive results can really help lift spirits and inspire creativity.

Make Use of Technology

As social distancing and sheltering at home become the reality for many company workers, now’s the time to take advantage of all the great technologies we have access to. Platforms for video meetings, sharing information and collaboration can be used to promote teamwork and new ideas. 

Embrace Less Structure

As more employees work remotely – many for the first time – workflows will change, and new distractions may emerge. Evidence has found that there is a crisis of creativity in our education system that is partially due to the highly structured environment. By embracing less structure, we all have the opportunity to reflect more and be inspired to think more creatively. 

Shun Bureaucracy

Creativity thrives on flexibility and adaptability – rigid, bureaucratic thinking stifles creativity. While there are always legal and risk management issues to consider, there are likely policies that will need to be relaxed to allow for more timely and workable solutions during a crisis. 

Encourage Creative Pursuits

The act of creating something stimulates the brain to generate new, innovative ideas. Whatever the activity may be – writing, drawing, painting, knitting, etc. – doing it regularly focuses the mind and flexes the creative muscle. Employees working from home can use newly found downtime to take on new (or re-discovered) creative activities.  

Final thoughts

Until just a few weeks ago, my days were filled with stressful commutes, running through airports and endless meetings. Just days ago, I picked up my guitar for the first time in over a decade…just because. I’ve always been a reader, but now I have time to reflect on what I’ve read and how I’m going to put what I learn into practice. I’m hiking now with a renewed sense of focus and appreciation for the simple beauty in nature and my surroundings. There is no playbook for what we’re going through right now. As leaders, we need to address this crisis head-on – instilling hope, inspiring creativity and working together to change things for the better.