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15 July 2020

Image of a team putting together a puzzle of a lightbulbIn the workplace, creativity does not occur in isolation. 

Digitalisation, Industry 4.0 and the Future of Work are inevitably, if not already, impacting the way we work. COVID-19 has propelled some of these expectations into a reality for many of us. 

Global organisations, such as the World Economic Forum and the OECD, identify the core skills of the future to be predominantly STEM-based and include digital literacy and other technical skills. However, the skills that are continuedly espoused as crucial to all domains of the future of work are complex problem solving and creativity – ostensibly – creative problem solving.

While there is threat to some occupations in the future of work, engineering is predicted to remain stable and even grow in some domains (e.g. software engineering).

My research explores factors that contribute to successful ageing in the workplace with some engineering workplace exemplars. Building on one of my previous studies, I have found that while there is no relationship to age and creativity in the engineering workplace, there is a relationship between psychosocial safety in the engineering workplace and creative problem solving.

Creativity in the workplace can be examined from four different viewpoints: the individual person; the cognitive process; the environment; and the outcome, which could be a product or service. The product is the outcome of the interaction between the person, the process, and the environment. The environment includes workplace demands, resources, teams, and management. 

Among other factors, I wanted to explore engineers’ experience and knowledge of creative problem solving, and psychosocial safety in their workplaces. After rigorous analyses of the data obtained by tests and interviews, I found a curious disparity between some of the engineers. Compared to the engineers who were less adept at creative processes, the engineers who value creativity in their role, understand creativity, and can effectively demonstrate creative problem solving, have something else in common: a psychosocially safe and supportive workplace.

Management fosters a psychosocially safe workplace by supporting the engineering teams to communicate openly about their ideas, their feelings, express their needs, and encourages risk-taking by testing out their ideas – or as some engineers call it, ‘to tinker’.

If the future of work is asking workers to be able to solve complex problems creatively, then the workplace needs to support the workers' psychological health and safety with encouragement to openly share and ‘tinker’ with their ideas.

As well as driving innovation, this environment which nurtures creativity will have the added benefit of contributing to successful ageing in the workplace.

Michelle is presenting this research at the Marconi Institute for Creativity’s 4th Annual Conference later this year.

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