This is one of a series of blogs on problem solving, creative thinking and creativity to support a number of my public and in-house training courses on the subject with regards to strategy, marketing campaigns and business development. Please let me know ( if you would like further details of half and full day workshops or services to design and facilitate sessions.

Stress occurs when something triggers our bodies into thinking that there is danger and we go into “fight, flight or freeze” mode. There are numerous physiological changes that occur when this happens such as the release of adrenal and cortisol and a reduction of the white blood count. Prolonged stress impacts the immune system and can cause a host of other serious mental and physical illnesses.

Your personality will affect the way you deal with stress – for example, emotional inhibitors tend to bottle it up, emotional ruminators dwell on past upsets and toxic achievers are inappropriately competitive often reacting with anger and hostility.

But not all stress is bad. There is evidence of an optimum stress level – just the right amount. Harvard Business School has conducted a long term study of the relationship between stress and creativity which indicates that the absence of stress can lead to complacency and disengagement. It seems that there is much to consider when it comes to Creativity and good and bad stress.

Considering the matrix, there are four stress conditions:

On a mission – an optimum situation for creativity in the workplace is when there is the pressure of a deadline with meaningful work.

On an expedition – although there is little pressure here, creativity flows as the work is meaningful.

On a treadmill – this is a common scenario in professional services – high pressure but often meaningless work as a host of repetitive, uninspiring and/or administrative tasks continue to pile up. Creativity is unlikely in this situation.

On autopilot – people have low engagement in this situation and often switch off.

At training sessions I often mention the management actions that increase stress during change programmes when you often need people to be creative: announcing changes piecemeal, allowing people to learn about changes from rumour/press, refusing to explain reasons for changes, being untruthful, not providing a vision of where the organisation is going and increasing uncertainty by long delays between announcing changes and telling those affected.

There is a well-established correlation between happiness and creativity and this is particularly relevant in the area of empowerment. A happy state of mind engenders productivity, creativity and motivation. Henley Management College reported “There appears to be a positive correlation between an atmosphere of ‘human playfulness’ (i.e. humour) in the workplace and the improvement of innovative activity and creativity…”. A feeling of positivity in the workplace is linked to the “progress principle” (Professor Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School) – the high correlation between making progress and feeling good at work.

I have written before about personality testing – and the NEO assessment explores how vulnerable and prone to stress individuals tend to be

I recommend the book “Crazy busy” (written by a psychiatrist) for those suffering unproductive stress