Fostering Creativity in the Workplace

a peek at the inside of tulips

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Fostering a creative environment in the workplace is like nurturing a garden.

Though I’ve had tulips in my garden for the past 6 years, this Spring marks only the second year my tulips have bloomed. Each year as the green leaves of my tulips appear, I eagerly anticipate the colorful blossoms. Unfortunately for the first 4 years, all I saw was a garden of green stems sitting atop the leaves. In talking to one of my neighbors, she asked if I let the tulips die back. Being a novice gardener I replied, “Once I see the greens starting to wilt, I cut down the plant.” As it turns out, tulip bulbs reabsorb the energy from the dying plant. Rather than cutting down the plants, I learned I should let them die back naturally. Just like gardening, creativity in the workplace needs care and feeding.

Researcher, Theresa Amabile, identified 6 stimulants and 2 obstacles for fostering creativity in the workplace:


  1. Organizational Encouragement – an environment that encourages risk taking and idea generation.
  2. Supervisory Encouragement – managers who set clear goals, model creative behavior, and value individual contributions.
  3. Supportive Work Groups – teams of diverse people who communicate well, trust one another, strive to make one another’s work better, and are open to new ideas.
  4. Freedom – autonomy to control what work gets done and how to do it.
  5. Sufficient Resources – the right balance of resources and enough of them.
  6. Challenging Work – work that is intellectually challenging and important to the organization.


  1. Organizational Impediments – internal strife including politics, harsh criticism, destructive competition, and desire to stick with the status quo.
  2. Workload pressure – unrealistic time constraints.

Assessing the workplace against these criteria can help identify areas where companies are doing well and what might need to be addressed. Just like gardening, fostering creativity in the workplace takes care and feeding. With the right attention creativity in the workplace can blossom.

Source:  Teresa M. Amabile; Regina Conti; Heather Coon; Jeffrey Lazenby; Michael Herron. Assessing the Work Environment for Creativity.
The Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 39, No. 5. (Oct., 1996), pp. 1154-1184.

2 Responses to Fostering Creativity in the Workplace

  1. Nathan says:

    I think there is an additional factor that needs to be considered when looking for/fostering creativity in the workplace. That additional factor is to ask whether the people involved in the project wish to exercise their creativity, then the rest of these items are applicable.

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