Forrest Stuart MacCormack

My mom, who is a special needs teacher in Southern California, loves this quote, often attributed to Pablo Picasso: “All children are born artists. The problem is to remain artists as we grow up.” Translation: All people have the innate capacity to be creative. Yes, even accountants.

For many people, retaining that creative spark means finding a project of passion unrelated to their 9-to-5 jobs. Just look at the multi-family industry. One industry veteran, who has spent more than 20 years bringing valuable data to his clients, also rocks an electric guitar in a top-notch band. Another industry friend, who is one of the most astute people I know when it comes to all things finance- and technology-related, is also a brilliant and longtime photographer. There’s even a C-level executive at a large multifamily firm who spends nearly every other weekend designing new surfboards for himself.

Yet, although these “on-the-side” activities don’t pay the bills, being creative doesn’t have to exist in a vacuum, siloed only into our personal lives and devoid of any impact on our bottom lines at “work.” Interestingly enough, these days, it pays to be creative on the clock as well. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially in a recession, where everyone seems to be taking on additional responsibilities and cramming more and more hours into the day thanks to shrinking budgets, leaner staffs, and streamlined operations.

It is possible, though. Perhaps it’s taking a young, Web-savvyGen Y development associate in your company and giving him new responsibilities finding online tools, gadgets, and programs that can help your company cut costs. Maybe it’s asking the receptionist with a penchant for graphic design (no, this isn’t an episode of The Office) to submit logo ideas for a corporate re-branding. Or it could be recruiting your jokester employee, who is always ready with a quick, witty one-liner, to work with your marketing team to write copy for consumer ads and leasing promotions. Even accountants can—and should—get in on the action, too. They can look for creative new ways to work the numbers to generate additional revenue streams and find more cash to have on hand, whether by discovering applicable new tax credits and grants or developing new incentive plans “borrowed” from other industries and adapted to work for your own employees.

A lot of folks in the industry are doing these things already. But having a systematic approach to utilizing creative thought and energy at your company can elevate your operations to the next level. Such an approach can also prepare you to seize upon new opportunities. Having creative minds at the ready—and cultivating creativity wherever you may find it—allows your team to be nimble, responsive, and ready to pounce. After all, missed opportunities lead to regrets, which leads to missed revenue, and in the real estate arena today, you can’t afford to lose out on either.

At my parent company, Hanley Wood, our systematic approach to creative thinking is the company’s annual “Idea Factory” retreat, where leaders and managers immerse themselves in thinking up any and every hair-brained new product, event, or service that might generate new cash flow or grow our audiences. The result: Over the past seven years, we have put 70 ideas into implementation, generating about $90 million in new revenue across five divisions and 40-plus brands. All by making it a priority to think creatively.

Because the truth is, we may be grown-ups, but there are still creative young minds at work inside each of us.