If You Haven't Heard, It's About Creativity
Here's a fact you may sense, but still be surprised to learn: across sectors, across organizational levels, and over more than a decade, leaders have overwhelmingly agreed that one thing is vital to their future success - creativity. Yup, creativity.
The fact derives from leadership surveys, conducted annually by professional services firms (e.g. PwC, E&Y, and others). While these studies ask many questions, they consistently ask some form of these two:
- What's the environment like in which you must lead and your organization must compete?
- Given that environment, what is the key skill or strategic imperative needed to to be successful?
In answer to the question about their operating environment, leaders have consistently declared it "unpredictable" - and for a dozen years now. Rather than a passing phase, their response pattern speaks of a new environmental condition. Leaders are finding this constantly changing environment not just tough or in flux, but so shape shifting that in a November 2017 PwC study of 1,379 CEOs, a whopping 82% concluded that the source and nature of their economic growth was uncertain or unpredictable. 82%. It's a stunning, even unnerving admission.
And what then do leaders say it'll take to contend with and compete in that environment? Creativity.
But What Is Creativity All About?
What exactly do leaders mean when they say creativity is what they need? To be honest, even they seem a little unclear. Over the past decade as leaders have steadily pointed to creativity, they've also steadily listed skills like adaptability, problem solving, and emotional intelligence as well. Sometimes they even use these terms interchangeably. Often it seems as if they are searching for clarity, even as they seem confident in what they need.
The water gets murkier still when you take a look at what leaders are actually doing to get what they need. In most cases, they are doing very little. Those few that are trying to actively address their need for creativity have done so by attempting to hire more creative people into their organizations. That infrequent and isolated act has yielded little tangible change. Part of the reason it hasn't worked is the difficulty organizations face in attempting to discern creative types. Even when they think they've come up with ways to do so, those so-called creatives quickly die on the vine upon joining the organization. Why? - Because nothing else in these organizations typically changes to enable creativity to take root and become a serious and reliable organizational asset.
Attempting to make an organization more creative simply through hiring is a failed strategy. It's also but one example. Far too often and too quickly we default to a hope-filled but destined to fail formula or quick fix, ignoring the fact that creativity is far more about environment, habit, and culture then it is about single individuals, single ideas, or one time attempts to think outside the box. So what should leaders do instead?
Having Impact Is About Getting Back To Basics
There are perhaps as many opinions about creativity as there are leaders declaring it critical. But there are 3 key features of creativity upon which all experts agree:
- It's about bringing "new" into being.
- It is achievable by anyone.
- And it is possible in every domain.
What's remarkable is that even though there's general agreement on these fundamental truths, they are the very things we quickly leave behind in our pursuit of things creative, when we ought to be doing the exact opposite - instead using them as our cues and guides.
As you go forward into to the headwinds of this rapidly changing world, try simply keeping these things in mind and better, in use.
- New. Because creativity involves bringing something new into being, it affords an easy test as to how much creativity really exists in your thinking and organization. Take a look around at your ideas and activities. Are they dominantly tweaks on the old? It's not that simple modifications are bad, but when allowed to govern, they tend to spawn same-old, same-old thinking, ideas, and results. Find ways to more often come to your edges and peer beyond the obvious.
- Anyone. If you're like most people in most organizations, you tend to look to specific individuals, groups, or even yourself as the leader to be the font of creativity and innovation, even if you don't mean to. Stop. Creativity is an innate trait in us all, even if an unpracticed skill in most. More, no single individual, no matter how practiced in thinking creatively, can be the bottomless wellspring of fresh thinking. Indeed the greatest breakthrough ideas are a byproduct of many minds generating many ideas, and in cultures that encourage this kind of cross-pollination as a matter of course and not just in a moment of crisis. If you're not extending the license for pursuing creative thinking to everyone on your team, you're squandering your greatest renewable asset, and lowering your odds of success.
- Everywhere. The same goes for "where" as it does for "who" - if your mindset is that creative thinking and ideas are bound by department or position, you're unlikely to build a truly creative culture or organization. Try thinking less about where creativity is coming from, and more about where it's not. That's where you need to cultivate the ground and plant the seeds of change.