Have you ever said the c-word at work?
No... not that c-word.
I’m talking about:
In my last three jobs, I worked in a company where the need and desire for creativity was significantly downplayed. I worked in an industry where the dominant personalitywithin it was someone who was logical, analytical and methodical. (For any Meyers Briggs-nerds like myself, my company was full of ISTJ’s - Introverted. Sensing. Thinking. Judging.).
What was valued was:
- Spreadsheets (ooo, don’t I love them too!?)
In meetings, thinking outside the box wasn't highly regarded. Launching never-before-done projects wasn’t something that got people jazzed up.
No no-one will ever tell you that creativity isn’t valued.
No-one sat me down on the first day, or even the last and said that trying new things wasn’t allowed. Or that inventiveness wasn’t appreciated.
But the culture was one in which thinking too differently, or voicing too many ideas and suggestions made people uncomfortable.
We all conform to the traits that are valued and rewarded in a company. Consciously, or not, we pay attention to the type of people who get promoted. This is what creates a culture, in an organization, and in countries around the world. We notice the character traits that are recognized and acknowledged. We pick up on qualities that are appreciated. And those that aren’t.
I paid attention.
Creativity was never a word that came up when a promotion was on the table. Uniqueness, originality, boldness wasn’t recognized.
It wasn’t really worth trying something new because it probably wasn’t going to be approved.
So we didn’t try to be daring. Or unique. Myself included.
I distinctly recall the words “I’m not creative” coming out of my mouth at work. More than once.
And that’s devastating to me.
Have you ever asked a group of five-year-olds to raise their hand if they’re creative? They almost all leap out of their chairs to stick their arms in the air. They’re all creative! And gosh darn it, they want you to know it!!
Now, imagine asking a group of 16-year-olds if they’re creative. Guess how many are jumping out of their seats? (Conservative estimates say that number drops to zero). And a whole lot less put their hands up at all.
How about your workplace? Would you put up your hand? Would you cautiously wait to see if anyone else did first? I’m going to guess that number is pretty low.
Let me be clear: This is not a blast about the company or industry I worked in. This was not unique to the team I worked on, or to the job I had.
Lack of creativity is a problem in our world today.
As children, we are full of creative energy. We’re bursting with it. We all believe we are imaginative. And because we believe we are imaginative, we bring imagination into everything we do. We are proud of it. That is, in part, because we have not yet experienced embarrassment from failure, or faced criticism from our peers.
In adults, the fear of failing has set in. We have been humiliated in the past. And often, we protect ourselves from the fear and embarrassment. Sadly, this comes at an incrediblyly high cost - the cost of hundreds, thousands, even millions of fantastic great ideas that could change your life – your company – and the world.
And I’m ready to change that for myself. And for you too.
Creativity deserves to make a comeback at work, and at home, because it's what's needed to progress. To move forward in life. To achieve goals. To overcome obstacles. To solve problems. To get promotions (even if it doesn't always seem like it). To build relationships.
And because creativity is fun, when we stop taking ourselves so seriously.
Being creative in my last job was a liability so I let the artistic, imaginative part of me hide. And I've been proud of my logical thinking, rational calculations and steady nature.
Don't get me wrong. These are all wonderful traits.
I’m grateful for the chance to expand my analytical, consistent side of my brain.
But I have been missing out on the gifts of creativity.
I had almost forgotten that I even HAVE creativity within me.
Until, I was forced to get creative.
Moving to a new city encouraged me to try new, creative activities. Belly-dancing and painting have gotten me out of my logical brain and awakened the inspiring side of myself.
Starting my business required me to get creative. I designed my own website and branding. I write to you lovely people! I have created tools and resources to help others find the life they love. I have dreamed of what my business can become.
I’ve been reminded that I am creative.
And then inspired to make my designs, my writing, my tools, my dreams, all happen.
Being logical doesn't mean you can't have new ideas.
Being smart doesn't mean you can't make mistakes and have bad ideas sometimes.
Being planful doesn't mean you can't challenge convention. (And yes, planful is a word over 100 years old that has been resurrected in modern business jargon).
Being rational doesn’t mean you can’t use your imagination.
Being analytical doesn’t mean you always have to be right.
In fact, my logical, executing, planning side is what's made my creativity come to life!!!
But without the ideas and the inspiration, there’s nothing to GAANT chart. Nothing to spreadsheet. Nothing to analyze.
And nothing to design.
Ingenuity. Innovation. Invention. Originality. Resourcefulness.
To be your best self, you need to bring all of yourself to the table.
Think back to your five-year-old self. Would you have raised your hand?
How about at sixteen years old?
How about today?
I believe the level of creativity we possess is directly correlated to the level of credit we give ourselves for being creative. Our ideas match the willingness with which we are comfortable to say "I am creative."
Creativity is a skill. It’s not a natural gift you’ve either been graced with or not. It’s a muscle that you need to work in order to grow, improve and develop.
Saying you are creative doesn't mean you have to be the most creative person.
Saying you’re creative means you are allowing yourself to have new ideas. To try the unconventional. It means you’re bringing ALL your value. And all your value means you’re going to make a difference.
This week, get in touch with your imagination.
- Take a moment and think about what makes you feel creative. Write it down. Reply back to my email and tell me if you like.
- Track the moments and activities that make you feel creative through the week
- Tell one person that you are creative (or even “practicing to be more creative” if that feels more true for you!)
Now, do at least five things that make you feel creative. This week.
- Challenge an assumption. Whether it’s at home, in the workplace, or within yourself. Ask yourself what’s possible if something you assume to be true, isn’t. And watch the world open up.
- Find opportunities to do more of the things that light you up, inspire you, and challenge you to step outside your comfort zone.
- Foster curiosity and ask a question you normally wouldn’t. Maybe it’s asking a stranger waiting in line with you what they’re looking forward to about the long weekend. Perhaps you now have an excuse to ask a not-so-obvious question at work. Try genuinely learning something new, because you dared to ask someone to teach you.
Originality doesn't have to come out only in a job. There are many ways to spark your connection to creativity.
If you can't think of anything, reflect on what made you feel happy and creative as a child.
If you’re still stuck, here’s some more ideas to get to five things this week:
- Learn something new. Take a pottery class. Dance class. Cooking lessons. Sign up to learn a new language or play a musical instrument
- Doodle (there’s new evidence to show it actually keeps you engaged in the moment)
- Move your body instead of brainstorming sitting down. Go for a walk. Stretch for 10 minutes. Play a round of golf. Pump up the music and dance around the office.
- Join a paint night (there’s usually wine involved to expand that comfort zone a bit)
- Start a blog or write a new post
- Build something creative using toys like lego or play-doh. Try leaving them at your desk for moments you need a splash of distraction
- Write a poem
- Plan a fun date with a friend or your significant other
- Sign up for Toastmasters and speak in public
- Build a custom spreadsheet (yup, there are no rules as long as it actually inspires you and makes you feel innovative)
- Try the 30 circles exercise (from researcher Bob McKim and Tim Brown’s TED talk Creativity and Play).
- Draw 30 circles on a piece of paper
- In one minute, change as many circles are you can into objects.
- Ex. One can be a sun. One can be a globe.
- How many can you do in a minute? (Take quantity over quality)
- More people struggle getting to 30. Adults tend to self-edit, while children simply explore possibilities. Allow yourself to go with your first thoughts and play!
Practice that creativity. Stretch that imagination. Grow your resourcefulness.
See, regardless of the job you have, the company you work for, or the culture you are in, creativity is not a dirty word.
It's needed for us to live a full and unique life.
Imagination is required in our world.
It helps us adapt.
Creativity helps us survive change.
Innovation allows us to solve the challenges in today’s world.
Vision enables us to imagine and create a better world for tomorrow.
If you fast-forwarded twelve months and your job/department/company was still struggling to solve the same problem you’re working on today, how would you feel?
If you looked ahead five years and our world hadn’t changed a bit, would you be disappointed?
If you woke up in ten years and your life was exactly the same as it is today, what would you differently today?
If neither of those scenarios excite you, it’s time to open up to inspiration and creativity.
Let it guide you as you create the life, adventures, and experiences that have you looking at life knowing you lived it wonderfully. Let inspiration allow you be courageous and know that you will overcome the challenges and obstacles that come your way.
And allow yourself to know that the best is yet to come. Because you’re going to create it.
Now it’s my turn to go doodle and dance.
PS - Our support system is one of the MOST important parts of our life. If you know someone who could also use more creativity in life, pass it on to him or her. Challenge each other - and get creative together. They will thank you for it (and so do I)!