I’m. Not. Creative. Three words I dislike hearing people express in work environments. For some, perhaps this is true. But for many others, it’s not.
A lack of belief in one’s creative abilities potentially has several origin stories, but may be attributed to the “exclusive” way we define who is and isn’t creative and someone simply not having been granted permission to experiment by managers and company leaders.
My belief is that given the uncertainty, chaos and turmoil of today, there’s never been a better time for more people to be given license to think more creatively to solve problems at work—and there is a real pressing urgency to do so.
Growing up, I didn’t think that I was creative. The arts were considered extra, and I didn’t try to apply myself to creative pursuits on my own. I was a viewer and a reader, but never a maker or creator.
Over time and as I grew in the workforce, I found—or perhaps others found in me—that I had an aptitude to think creatively—or to think beyond the prescribed lines.
As I opened myself to who I was, I started applying that same openness to how I problem-solved or seized new opportunities. Now, I find myself with a fancy title with creative at its anchor.
In order to unlock this potential, I needed not only to be given permission, but see an appreciation for these skills. Emerging talent in this industry has immense diversity in their perspective and had to face the challenges of the times as they have grown. To be able to tap into this stream of creative and imaginative thinking, we must change how we create.
The workplace definition of “creative” must be expanded. Yes, I have and do work with some brilliant people who are naturally considered creative in the artistic sense. Their work is both inspiring to me and a bit intimidating and I still find myself a bit jealous of their skills. Yet, we need more people to trust their ability to create ideas that will help tackle how organizations can better stand out and apart, garner attention and steer conversations, while helping move humans, organizational goals, issues and society forward.
I often hear from colleagues who are intrigued by “idea development” and want to be part of it, but don’t quite know how to.
Employers of choice invest in their people. Therefore, we need to invest in more of our people’s thinking and doing.
Creative Plea 1: Say yes and say it more frequently. Say yes to both those newer to the workforce—and who see the world in quite different ways —and to seasoned veterans. Allow them to be bring their creative sides to work—even if creative isn’t part of their role. Good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, especially when given the clarity of need and the right guardrails.
Creative Plea 2: Practice “and.” It seems like every rule and expectation previously established has been challenged and or broken today. In some ways, that is good and other ways, uncomfortable. But to get the best creative thinking and doing for today, I advocate for challenging the rules of who gets to work on creative projects. Outstanding work comes when we bring creators together with analytical experts, introverts with extroverts and experienced vets with worldly newcomers. It’s about valuing collaboration over ownership and integration over silos.
Let’s face it: the way we work has forever changed. With hybrid or flexible work models taking hold, creative work is a way of bringing people together. True creative work requires us to come together more so as humans instead of as job titles or roles—and that’s intentional. The best creative work is when we can spar, develop a range of concepts and thoughts and play connect-the-dot together. Creative endeavors allow us to come to the table as our full selves, so we need more of it, and our colleagues, even if they don’t know it, need more of it too.
Creative Plea 3: Allow for greater exploration. Encourage it. Preach it. Practice it. Outside-in thinking shouldn’t be just a cliché—it must be a reality. Yes, people are tired and it’s hard to concentrate when global, national and local issues keep flying across our screens. But when we get to truly explore new possibilities, meet new collaborators and try new ways of approaching problems, there is positive energy that emerges. And that energy is a source to others as well.
And finally, let’s consider a word we need more of—joy. While creative must be smart, we need to welcome the joy of creating for everyone. We must be mindful that we’re not always in joyful moods these days—I know I’m not. But when I get in my creative mode, I find myself once again inspired. When I work with others on creative projects and we are aligned on the outcome, a certain joy sets in.
And who knows, perhaps our creative output inspires others, inspires change, inspires connection and inspires a new generation of creative thinkers. We must place great trust in creative thinkers to evolve our businesses, make our communities stronger, bring about equity and justice to the world—and that is the true power of creative.