Mention the word creativity, and people begin to squirm in their chairs. The very thought can prompt anxiety, fear, and doubt – even in the most accomplished professionals.
At the same time, we know that innovation is mission-critical in these disruptive times. As many competitive advantages of the past have become automated or outsourced, creative problem solving and inventive thinking have become essential to driving growth and sustainable success. The COVID crisis has forced us all to adapt to changing conditions, making it increasingly clear that we can no longer simply rely on the models of the past and expect the same results.
Recognizing the need for creativity isn’t a groundbreaking concept, but how do we cultivate this valuable resource and deploy it in order to drive meaningful results? What’s getting in our way? By exposing the five biggest misconceptions about creativity, we can bust the myths and get on with harnessing our most powerful and productive thinking.
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Myth 1: Creativity is only needed at the top
TRUTH: Creativity is no longer just for the C-suite. To win in these challenging times, creativity must be a core priority at all levels of the org-chart. In fact, a key leadership responsibility is to help everyday people become everyday innovators. You don’t need to be wearing a lab coat or a fancy suit to be an effective innovator. The dormant creative capacity of your entire workforce may be the most powerful asset at your disposal. To that end, encourage your full team to look for small, daily creative opportunities (micro-innovations) that are low-risk and can be highly-effective.
TRY THIS: Conduct a 21-day “idea a day” challenge, inviting all team members to submit a single small idea for improvement once a day. Offer a small reward and recognition for everyone who submits all 21 ideas. This will build a habit around everyday innovation and demonstrate leadership’s commitment to fostering everyday innovation.
Myth 2: An innovative idea only counts if it's gigantic
TRUTH: While massive innovations grab media headlines, small innovations are often the ones that drive consistent results. Instead of shooting for a $10 billion IPO or a Nobel Prize, the most prolific innovators focus instead on what I call Big Little Breakthroughs – small creative acts that unlock massive rewards over time. By building a daily habit of creativity, organizations not only enjoy a high volume of small wins, but build a daily practice of innovation, which is the fastest route to discover the massive breakthroughs they seek.
TRY THIS: In your next brainstorm session, do a lighting round asking people to share their smallest ideas instead of their biggest. Explain that another way to solve problems is a high-volume of little adjustments. Give the team a numerical target, such as 100 ideas in 10 minutes, and watch those little sparks fly.
Myth 3: Creativity is not my job
TRUTH: Your role has nothing to do with your creativity. There are professional musicians in major symphonies that are great technicians but don't use an ounce of creativity. There are also statisticians that are brilliantly creative. Don't let labels or job titles limit your potential. Today, creativity is everyone's job. There isn't a job function that can't benefit from creative problem solving, inventive thinking, or simply finding a better way.
TRY THIS: Take a few minutes during a break to reflect on your job. During this time, imagine what Steve Jobs might do differently if he had your exact role. What about Beyonce? Picasso? DaVinci? By seeing your role through the lens of a highly-regarded artist, it will help you discover how to inject your own creativity into the gig.
Myth 4: Creativity is a born talent, not a learned skill
TRUTH: As human beings, we all have tremendous creative capacity. We are hard-wired to be creative, yet many of us haven’t fully developed these skills. Importantly, your level of creativity isn't fixed at birth. Instead, think of creativity as an expandable muscle. You don't become a champion bodybuilder without hitting the gym. Similarly, to build creative capacity requires some practice and focus. Every one of us can expand our creative abilities with the right mindset and tactics.
TRY THIS: Spend two minutes (that’s right, two minutes) a day for five days on a simple morning ritual. Spend the first minute absorbing the creativity of others by watching a musical performance on YouTube, staring at a painting, or reading a poem. Next, spend one minute doing the following training drill: Grab any headline from the daily news and challenge yourself to discover six tiny ways that might help improve the situation in the news. That gives you only 10 seconds each, so keep the ideas fast and small. At the end of your five-day training routine, you’ll feel a nice boost to your creative mojo.
Myth 5: My technical skills and experience are enough
TRUTH: Maybe in the past, but definitely not today or in the future. Unorthodox approaches, original thought, and imagination have become the building blocks for career advancement and efficacy. According to the Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum, four of the top five most-needed skills in the workforce are directly tied to creativity. The report cites "innovation and analytical skills," "complex problem-solving," "critical thinking and analysis," and ‘\"creativity, originality and initiative" as positions 1, 3, 4, and 5 respectively.
TRY THIS: Imagine it’s one year from now and you just savored a huge win (got a big promotion, landed a huge account, snagged a major investment, etc.). If you had to identify what role inventive thinking and creative problem solving played in your success, what percentage likely came from creativity vs. traditional "hard skills?" Draw a quick pie-chart, coloring in the creative portion in a bright color. I’m guessing your colorful slice of pie is at least 30 percent of the chart. That visual anchor can serve as a powerful reminder as you move ahead, so keep it handy and visible.
The difference between getting a promotion, making the sale, delivering on expectations, raising capital, or fulfilling your calling lies in your ability to embrace and nurture your creative potential. As we enter a new era riddled with uncertainty, complexity, speed, and ruthless competition, busting the myths and building our creative skillset is crucial for both survival and success. The stakes are higher than ever, but so is the opportunity.
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