I’m a creative type. Growing up I had a rich and diverse network of imaginary friends, something that was mostly bemusing and at times alarming for my long-suffering parents. I loved and still love writing, drawing, painting and making things. My whole life, I was told that creativity was my gift, a nebulous and less useful consolation prize for being terrible at maths and science.
From time to time, I take part in team activities that involve creativity. When I walk into a training room and see tables strewn with coloured paper, markers and glue, I look forward to getting stuck in! However, I usually can’t help but notice audible groans from some colleagues. A few even look visibly uncomfortable during the activity and feel the need to repeat phrases like, “I’m no good at this” and “this isn’t my thing at all”.
This contrast in reactions always gets me thinking about creativity. We tend to think about it as though it is some kind of god-given gift, granted to a select few and usually at the expense of more practical skills. But is this really true?
I don’t think so. As children, we are all creative. We tell stories through games, drawings, and performances. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been a bewildered but admiring audience to a group of small children performing a nonsensical play of their own creation. However, somewhere along the way, many children absorb the idea that their creativity is not the right type of creativity, and they should stick to things for which they have more of a natural ability.
As much as I am in favour of celebrating our talents, I can’t help but find this sad. It seems a shame to give up on this vital part of humanity simply because one does not naturally excel at it. I am not naturally a methodical and structured person. However, I have learned to love working in this way because it allows me to channel my creativity into action.
Similarly, I believe that those people who don’t consider themselves naturally creative can learn to use and enjoy creative methods to enhance their work. They can nurture their sense of creativity, express themselves in creative situations more confidently and ultimately come up with more creative solutions to social and organisational challenges.
I’ve put together a list of methods that you can use to nurture both your own creativity and foster an atmosphere of creativity in your team:
1. Quantity over quality
When it comes to creativity, it is quantity rather than quality. The creative process it much like throwing cooked pasta at a wall to see what sticks. If you put all your energy into one measly strand of spaghetti, you’ll likely be disappointed when it doesn’t work. This in turn can reinforce the belief that you must just not be good at this. Naturally creative people have no issue with throwing great handfuls of spaghetti at the wall because they know that, eventually, something will stick. So don’t censor yourself. Allow the ideas to flow. You never know when something might stick.
How to implement this at work: Embrace and celebrate the brainstorming method and encourage your team to do so too. Establish an atmosphere where ideas flow freely and don’t break the momentum by getting caught up in just one.
2. Worry about the logistics later
This is probably one of the most important things that you can do to increase the natural flow of your creativity. When brainstorming, do not allow yourself to become bogged down in logistics. I’ve been part of brainstorming groups where ideas were flowing until one person doggedly dismissed every suggestion as being too big, too small, too costly, too time consuming. Not only did they contribute nothing to the group, but they actually sucked all the creativity from others! Don’t be that person. Worry about logistics later.
How to implement this at work: Lay down ground rules when brainstorming: Ideas cannot be dismissed. Team members are allowed to ask for clarification but not about details.They need to understand that this is a process and that some of the ideas thrown out will be unrealistic but they are essential steps to identifying ideas with real potential.
3. The first draft will be bad
…and that’s ok. Allow yourself to be bad. When a sculptor first starts to mold a lump of clay, it looks a mess. The same goes for creative ideas. Concentrate on expressing the shape first and remember that you can fine tune later. Yes, you will look back on your earlier drafts and cringe but that’s all part of the process.
How to implement this at work? Give yourself and your staff permission to have a poor first draft. Focus on the idea. Does it have potential? If so, nurture and celebrate that.
4. Get physical
While I do the vast majority of my writing on a computer, I still sometimes push the laptop aside in favour of scribbling out mind maps, diagrams and a bank of random ideas on paper. There’s something about doodling and having lots of colours and materials around you that can make it easier to formulate and communicate our creative ideas.
How to implement this at work? Equip meeting rooms with materials that are conducive to creativity and actively use them at meetings.
5. Get inspired
There are very few new ideas in the world. In fact, all of the millions upon millions of stories ever written are said to revolve around one of seven basic plots. Creativity isn’t usually about creating something completely new. It’s about finding a new creative approach to existing ideas. To develop these new interpretations, you first have to understand what others are doing. So, consume a wide variety of creativity, including books, films, music, and art. Learn to appreciate them, learn what you like, and then discover what you have to say in response to them. This is how you develop your creative voice.
How to implement this at work? Keep yourself informed, and encourage your team to be informed of innovation in your area of work. Discuss it. What do you think of these innovations? Is there something you could learn or adapt from them? Not only is this a great way to get people thinking creatively, it’s also a great way to bond your team.
Once you’ve transformed yourself into a creative tour de force, you may be interested in finding our more about the Design Thinking Method. Fundamentally, this method is about problem solving. It is also a great way to impose a methodical structure to creative thinking and translate ideas into reality. You can learn more about Design Thinking in our previous blog posts and through our Design Thinking courses.