Deep in thought

Employers
are letting their creative juices flow with the aim of stimulating staff,
writes Phil Boucher. From autogenic exercises to "make yourself
interesting" funds, organisations are looking to alternative solutions to
boost morale and productivity   

While
the phrase alternative therapy can still provoke scorn, not all employees are
leaving their holistic abilities at the factory gates. Increasingly,
organisations are recognising that the skills and techniques associated with
alternative practices can help to restore flagging morale and, more
importantly, stimulate creativity.

As
secretary of the British Autogenic Society, Jane Bird is just one of a growing
breed of consultants providing alternative solutions to business problems. Her
method combines relaxation with mental exercises to bring about a temporary
change of consciousness. Employees are then able to switch off their
"flight and fight" response and tap into what Bird describes as the
"restorative recuperation" system.

Stress
busting

Like
many alternative approaches, autogenics is a life-skill that can be applied to
the workplace. Exponents claim that it leads to better self-understanding and
an increased ability to handle stress.

Bird’s
autogenic exercises vary in length and application, ranging from a quick 30
seconds to a luxurious 20 minutes at home.

"Most
of the volunteers use it for stress management, and to help their physical and
emotional well-being," says Bird. "Creativity is not the main aim,
but when someone uses an anxiety-reducing, calming method they become more laid
back, and less concerned about results. Paradoxically, they become more
productive, which usually includes an increase of ideas and ease in
communicating them."

According
to Bird there are also physical benefits that aid the evolution of creativity.
"In the autogenic state the brain’s inherent self-regulatory mechanisms
function naturally, allowing a re-balancing of the activities of its right and
left hemispheres. This in turn boosts the workings of the immune system, promotes
healing processes, and can bring about greater emotional balance and release of
creativity."

Breaking
barriers

A
similar approach has been used within the cultural change programmes of
creative consultancy ?WhatIF!. Business development manager Dan Proctor claims,
"We try to break down the barriers between the work- and home-self and let
people do what they are good at in an environment they have helped to
shape."

To
do this ?WhatIF! tries to be constantly creative itself. As Proctor says,
"In order to consult on invention we have to invent for ourselves. If we
are not creative ourselves how can we be creative for you?"

In-house
this has led to the development of "Madness Mondays", where staff are
invited to do something completely different to the norm once a month. To date,
this has involved belly dancing, tree planting and a quick-fire lesson in
circus skills. Staff also recently spent a day removing graffiti from the walls
surrounding Paddington station.

"It
is all about feeding people’s brains," says Proctor. "We try to Lever
people out of their way of thinking and put them in another. To genuinely
arrive at new ideas you have to get out of more traditional ways of thinking
and the use of stimuli is incredibly important for this."

Dream
on

While
this concept of "seeing life from a different perspective" may seem
more at home in the 1960s, it is mirrored in a number of alternative approaches
and can even be argued to be at the core of most.

Phil
Parker, director of the Communication and Change consultancy, believes it is
important to look at the way you do things repeatedly and assess why you are
doing it. As he says, "When people buy beans in a supermarket they usually
go for the same brand. And the same repetitive processes happen in business
when it comes to hiring, firing or brainstorming."

Parker
challenges this thinking by encouraging people to step outside of their comfort
zone. And the key to this, Parker claims, is to allow yourself time to dream.

"You
need to allow your dreams to roll and roll, and this can be helped by simply
changing the scenery around you, moving office or even going to a different
country," Parker explains. "It is important to remove those inner
voices that tell you the faults in an idea before you have finished thinking about
it." This, he says, "removes the staleness in your thoughts."

Altered
images

James
Hammond, consultant psychologist at the National Association of Counsellors,
Hypnotherapists and Psychologists, uses a similar approach – albeit in the
slightly different field of neuro-linguistic programming.

His
method encourages people to visualise their creative processes so that barriers
can be clearly seen and broken down.

"Imagery
is very important," says Hammond. "People think they are in a field
surrounded by an electric fence, and 99 per cent never venture near the wire.
We try to get them to see the wire as string that can easily be broken."

Like
Parker, the key to his approach is to enable people to "bypass the control
facilities" that restrict thoughts from developing.

The
Quest

Possibly
the most drastic approach has been taken by London-based advertising agency St
Luke’s. The company is at the forefront of using alternative stimulation.

Along
with a resident artist and Swedish-style reception area, the building has craft
exhibits hanging from the walls and doors.

The
idea is to provide as many sources of stimulation as possible. And to encourage
this further a group called The Quest has been set up to look after the
pastoral care and morale of the company.

Andy
Palmer, Quest member and managing director of St Luke’s, explains, "We try
to arrive at initiatives to spice things up a bit. For instance, every new
member of staff is given £100 to buy a present for the company and told to go
for whatever they want. There is also a £150 ‘make yourself more interesting’
fund for people who want to learn more skills."

This
has led to people taking up language courses, extreme sports and the adoption of
a number of company penguins in Regent’s Park. The concept is simply to
increase stimulation that staff can translate into their business dealings.

The
design of the building has drawn what Palmer describes as "amusement and
stares". However, he goes on to say, "We think it is good to raise a
few eyebrows and keep a sense of dynamism around the place. Creativity can
solve almost any problem, and fun and stimulation are vital for this."

www.autogenic-therapy.org.uk/
www.whatif.co.uk
www.hyp.no.com
www.nachp.org
www.stlukes.co.uk

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