We all associate creativity with painters, musicians, and chefs, but creativity isn't limited to the arts. Creativity in business is one of the most useful but infrequently trained and cultivated skills. The common belief that "you either have it or you don't" further hampers employees' efforts to increase their own creativity aptitude. According to the creative evangelist Denise Jacobs, "We're all powerful. We all have this creative power within us."
Art is the most common creative output we think of, but creativity shows up in everything we do-from marketing to personnel management to project management to unearthing additional resources. Exceptionally creative people find a way to get things done. Obstacles still exist, but they don't let those hurdles overwhelm the. Instead, they figure it out. And when they get stuck, they use these tactics to keep the ideas flowing.
- Think of creativity as a skill. With this mindset, you approach creativity as you would any other desirable business trait-as something you can train, grow, and strengthen. Toss out the belief that you either are or are not creative.
- Read a blog or business journal from another industry. The more specific material you seek out in this exercise, the better. We often focus (which is a good thing) on content specific to our familiar business problems or sector. Reading about how someone else is solving their problems might spark some ideas of your own. "Go to" sources for me include anything on infrastructure (engineering journals on construction or transportation), international aid or nonprofit groups, or education. Each of these industries is dramatically different from my own, but each faces massive challenges. They tend to think big and take bold positions on issues.
- Get out of the office (other wherever you typically work). A change of scenery can be really effective. Do you ever find yourself standing in line to board a plane and being struck with a fantastic idea that you have to type into your phone before it evaporates? Okay, maybe that's just me, but creative bursts like that happen when your surroundings are less familiar. New physical environs trigger you to think about things in different ways.
- Get input from a new or entry-level employee. Seeking input from someone who has just joined your organization gives you an as-of-yet uninfluenced opinion. New or junior-level employees are better able to honestly question "why" and "how" without years of baggage.
- Stash away snippets of ideas. Sometimes creativity drips out in snippets of little ideas. You might not be sure, in the moment, how each element might solve your problem but don't lose the little ideas. I use a dictation app or e-mail myself little ideas as they are sparked. I gather those little ideas up into a central file and review them once a week or so to see what concepts and common threads emerge.
- Stop saying you're not creative. You are. And, you have the potential to be so much more creative if you believe it. Without fostering your creative side, you're limiting yourself and causing people to (often subconsciously) curb opportunities in which to engage you. No one wants that.
In the face of a tough problem, I frequently overhear someone self-assess and say, "I'm just not creative." This surprises me every time I hear it. You? I'm surprised how comfortable people seem to be judging themselves so harshly and openly in a business setting on what I consider to be a key skill. I can only assume for these individuals that creativity hasn't been explicitly called out as a desired strength. Otherwise, I can't imagine hearing someone say, "I'm just not smart... or decisive... or hardworking."
Creativity defined is the ability to thoughtfully combine multiple elements into something fresh and new. In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilvert says, "A creative life is an amplified life. It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner-continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you-is a fine art, in and of itself."
Like everything else, creativity is a learned skill that becomes a trait when we nurture it and seek to grow it. Creativity has a number of siblings that are also worth nurturing in our professional lives, including the ability to innovate, the ability to create a vision, and resourcefulness.