We all swoon at the creative cultures we see in some organizations. They have these crazy interior designs, their employees dress funny (why is it always skinny jeans?), but no one can argue with the fact that they keep coming up with cool new stuff. Some of us love those sorts of organizations. Some of us hate them. Some of us act like we’re in the former group when really we’re in the latter because we’re jealous. (OK, fine, I really want one of those huge twisty slides in my workplace.)
The thing is, I don’t believe those environments happen on accident. In fact, I’m certain they don’t. I have an acquaintance who works at Pixar and it’s crazy how intentional they are with creating environments that are conducive to people being creative. That’s actually this person’s job. Not making the films, but creating the spaces within which other creative folks will create other stuff. Fascinating.
Today and tomorrow we’re going to look at this a little closer. Today we’ll look at the individual level. What sorts of things should we be engaging in ourselves, encouraging in others, and ultimately making sure our organizations are facilitating as well?
Unless you’re a cat, there’s no need to be afraid of curiosity. I like to think that curiosity is what gives birth to creativity. We’re first curious about something, and it’s that curiosity that drives us to create. I’m trying to think of inventors who created something without first being curious about something, but I’m coming up empty.
There was a study done recently wherein jazz musicians’ brains were monitored while they were improvising during gigs. Long, boring, tedious, academic story short — these musicians’ brains had essentially learned to “turn off” that little thing in there that tells you that this or that won’t work or might fail. So without that stopping them, their imagination thrived, unfettered, and you’ve heard the amazing results.
Same is true in our corporate environments. I’ll go into this a bit more tomorrow, but there are so many things in our various organizations that make it irritatingly difficult for people to even have time to be curious, let alone imagine anything.
Wait a second, you’re thinking. If it’s creativity, why would you need knowledge? Isn’t creativity by definition something totally new?
It’s a fair question, but let me explain why I say knowledge is part of it. What you know about a given subject or topic or thing gives your mind some sort of framework within which it can work. It provides it the tools it needs to think differently about things. If someone asked me to think creatively about astrophysics, I’d be screwed. Now if they asked me to think creatively about organizational culture, then I’d have a fighting chance. Make sense?
Most of the time, you’ve got to want to be creative to be creative. You’ve got to work at being creative to be creative. I don’t feel that I’m terribly creative. Odd? Sure. Unique? Yeah, just like the rest of you (see what I did there?).
But every once in a while someone will walk into my office, look around at the walls and ask how I came up with some of the ideas. Or we’ll be in a meeting and something will click for me as I’m scribbling in my little black notebook like a weirdo. (See #4 in this post)
What most people don’t know — and yes, I realize this takes my nerdiness to an entirely new and embarrassing level — is that I actually work on it. Yes, my now former readers, I actually practice. I think people think you’ve either got it or you don’t, and I guess in some ways they’re correct in that some folks are naturally a bit more inclined in that direction; but I think everyone’s creative in their own way.
So a while back I started doing things to challenge myself to be creative. Sometimes they were business-related. Other times they weren’t. And now I have an arsenal of things that I do on a regular basis to stretch my mind. It’s almost like trying to make creative thinking a habit, for lack of a better word. But what it does is it makes me apply those thinking habits to the majority of the business conversations I’m in as well.
This one will transition us nicely into tomorrow’s post, but I think it’s important to note here as well. Creativity doesn’t often happen in a vacuum. As Steve Johnson says, chance favors the connected mind. When people are together, talking, laughing, thinking, exploring — they’re going to throw out ideas. But it’s not usually those initial ideas that are the ones that end up being the ideas. Those ideas trigger something in someone else’s mind, and it snowballs. Before long, this group of folks has developed a creative solution that wouldn’t have been possible without the collective.
Blah blah. Who cares? You should. Don’t fall prey to the myth that only some people are creative and you’re not one of the chosen few. You are creative; it’s just a matter of figuring out in what way. So find things you’re curious about and that are interesting to you, use your imagination a little (even when the ideas sound silly), utilize all that knowledge you have locked away in that brain of yours, stay motivated and work at it, and surround yourself with others who are doing the same.
Tomorrow we’ll look at this from the organizational level. In the meantime, what would you add to this list? What helps you be creative?