How To Become More Creative – When You Are Not The Creative Type

Exceptional leadership requires exceptional creativity.


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Last updated: September 18th, 2023

Fostering creativity

Last updated: September 18th, 2023

Reading Time: 5 minutes

How in touch are you with your creative side? Squirming in your seat a bit, I see. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, according to a study by Brit + Co. (a startup geared toward inspiring creativity in women), 77% of adults think they’ve lost their creativity.

At least “lost” implies that at one point they felt they actually were creative.

Contrast that with a recent IBM study that revealed that:

  • 60% of CEOs cited creativity as the most important leadership quality, compared with
  • 52% for integrity, and
  • 35% for global thinking.

No doubt, creativity is a conundrum for leaders today.

(Related: How To Be A Better Strategic Leader).

“But I’m A Leader – Not A ‘Creative'”.

For most of us it’s easier to cast creativity aside as the domain of, well … creative people with creative job titles in creative industries.

The likes of website designers who build spectacular websites, wordsmiths who write articles dripping with emotion, illustrators, and even techies.

You can spot creative people because they’re decorated with multiple tattoos, earrings, goatees and hair buns. They wear black, tight, just-so tattered jeans and zip across the city on a scooter to their job where they’ll “create”.

Creative people are often confused with hipsters—which they may or may not be. But that’s a topic for another post.

You, on the other hand, regard yourself as the opposite. You’re a business professional. Your team works in sales, HR, finance, healthcare or some similar profession.

Your people drive sedans and wear suits—and at most sport business casual on Friday. You’re on the other side of the fence, so to speak. Or are you?

(Related: How To Double Your Team’s Performance).

Let’s Get A Little Crazy Here.

What if the fence didn’t exist? What if there was no “other side” to be on?

This week, I want you to open your mind to the possibility that creativity is not a dividing line. And whether or not someone has “it” isn’t as black and white as you might think.

I want you to imagine you can inspire your team to be more creative.

Do it for one very compelling reason: creativity at work leads to increased productivity, better leadership ability and greater job satisfaction. The British Psychological Society is just one organisation to boast this correlation.

American creativity researcher Shelley Carson suggests a circular workplace flow:

  • creativity leads to happiness
  • happiness leads to productivity
  • productivity opens the door for more creative time, and
  • on it goes.

You might call it the antithesis of a vicious cycle. It is, as the hipsters say, all good.

This chain reaction has been coined by Harvard Business School Research Director, Teresa Amabile, as The Progress Principle.

She explains:

“We found that if people are in a better mood on one day, they’re more likely to come up with creative ideas on that day – and the next day, regardless of the next day’s mood…

Later, she concludes…

“There’s a carryover effect, an incubation effect, so that when you’re in a good mood, there seems to be a cognitive process that gets going where you’re making connections between things, which can show up in a new idea or a creative solution to a problem.”

Sign your team up, right?

Here’s The Hitch.

Fostering creativity, happiness and success for your people is going to be tough if you’re not feeling that way yourself.

And given the 77% statistic, chances are you’ve long ago relegated yourself to the “other side of the fence”. However, all hope for your inner spark is not lost.

Many experts believe we are all born creative. It doesn’t mean we’ll all create high art like a Mozart or a Picasso. But it does mean that each of us has unique talents.

Your neighbour might be a budding drummer, and the person you just met at a dinner party last weekend might have a way with orchids.

(Related: Coolest Coffee Machines For Your Home Office).

The Point Is To Expand Your View Of Creativity.

Dr. Carrie Baron, a psychologist at Columbia University and co-author of The Creativity Cure shares that creativity really has to do with open-mindedness.

Creativity, she claims, applies to everything from making a meal to generating a business plan.

So, even if you and your team aren’t dancers, poets or singers, here are a few ways you can make the hours between 9-5 feel more like magic.

Change Your Language.

Why start with words? Because how you talk about something reflects how you feel about it.

Looking at how you discuss the connection between work and creativity—both for yourself, and with your staff—is the first step toward the open-mindedness Dr. Baron described.

But, as the 77% figure shows, changing your perspective as an adult isn’t exactly easy.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, offers us a helpful trick.

When you think and speak about creativity, replace it with the word “curiosity”.

This one simple shift makes it absurd to profess that you don’t have a creative bone in your body. (You know you’ve said it.) If you remove your fears and insecurities from the equation, you’ll see that curiosity is the essence of creativity.

If you are curious, you are creative—end of story.

Make a list of all the things you’ve ever wondered about, or wished you could experience. Ask your team to do the same. If you can cultivate an inner curiosity about life and keep it alive, you can inspire your people to do the same.

Before long, it will spill over to your work naturally.

Re-Evaluate Your Time.

One pervasive problem I hear about from clients is meetings. Both the sheer volume of them and their utter lack of effectiveness.

According to Dom Price, Chief Futurist at Atlassian, 75 to 85% of our time is spent in meetings, which usually becomes time to work on other tasks (73% of us do this) despite thinking it’s inappropriate (84% of us).

This means most of us aren’t even mentally present in the meetings we’re physically attending.

So, why do it? Good question. Do your best to mitigate the madness.

When J.P. Guilford first began defining the human intellect in the late 1960’s, distraction in the workplace was already an issue. His model put forth two types of thinking: divergent (generates ideas) and convergent (analyses for the best outcome).

To tap into both sides of the brain, guess what you need?

Time For Success.

For your team, this might look like striking a conscious balance between necessary structure and planned freedom.

Google was one of the first companies to launch the 20% rule. Meaning 20% of their employee’s time was spent pursuing ideas that interested and inspired them. Other tech companies like LinkedIn have followed suit.

Whether or not you can carve out such a large chunk for your team, the concept is something to strive for.

Bust Your Own Myths.

You’re the leader. And if creativity is the goal, set the example. Try some new things.

For example, flex your style. If you’re used to being a coach, try balancing it with getting your hands dirty. Or, lead from the front. Be the one who points to the horizon and reveals what’s next.

According to Tim Brown of IDEO, who teaches their famous course Leading for Creativity, the most effective leaders are all of the above when the time is right.

To be this nuanced in your approach, you’ll really have to know your own strengths and limitations. You’ll need to be curious about yourself.

But also about your people. Learn what makes them tick. Curate your talent. Guide them as they tweak their roles to coax out their best work.

Prove that creativity means more than tattoos, black jeans and scooters. Don’t just show up to check the box. Do this by remembering who you are. You’re not your career, your bills, or your relationships.

You’re a deeply curious being. You’ve always had “it” and you always will.

Writer Robert McCammon said it best:

“We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand….But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow path and told to be responsible.”

Go forth and create.

– Irene

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