Creativity–it’s a word with baggage. There will always be people who think of it as kids playing with paste and paper, cat ladies painting abstract water colors, and someone who is poor doing something that no one wants to pay for. Not just baggage, stereotyped baggage.
The first response from teaching artists was a typical mistake: let’s make “creative art” classes that are fast, easy and fun. You get a kit, assemble it, add a few personal touches and feel like an artist. After all, the same technique worked for Betty Crocker in the kitchen. Convenience trumped practice, effort, and failure.
Here are some new ways to think of creativity. Trigger warning: not all are fun.
- Creativity is about change. Doing things differently. Using the same tools to create different outcomes. If you don’t want to change, creativity is not your answer.
- Creativity needs failure. If everything is working well for you, why change it? Why dig deep if the road is smooth? Once we start to fail, we suddenly become more accepting of change. It doesn’t seem as scary because the road behind us is on fire, and it’s gaining on us. When we fail, we dig in to reasons, analysis, and new ideas. That’s creativity built on failure. But it leads to success.
- Creativity takes time. The stereotype of artists is that there is a flash of inspiration, and the creative work pours out of them. You’ll have to interview a lot of artists to find one that agrees. Creativity takes time to think, to plan, and to implement. Then there are mistakes to fix. Repetition over time yields practice, and practice will, with more practice, make you faster. Speed is part of creativity, too. But not in the short run.
- Creativity is scary. You feel uncertain. You can’t predict the outcome of something you haven’t done before (and others haven’t either.) Your clients want certainty, and it’s not there. We quit out of fear. We might look stupid. We might not make it. True, but that’s part of the learning curve. If you quit being creative because you were scared, try again.
There are two reasons to push ahead through fear and uncertainty.
- Creativity works. Call it innovation, disruptive thinking (which simply means not “doing it the way we’ve done it innumerable times before), or change, creativity is what moves ideas ahead, taking culture and ideas with it.
- Everyone is creative. I know, it’s hard to believe. That’s because you are choosing not to believe you are creative. If you can imagine something you have not seen, you are creative. It was trained out of you in the early school years. In our education model, obedience and compliance is easier to control than innovation and creativity, which are often messy and scary. And most elementary teachers didn’t sign up for messy and scary because they have big classes and no budget. Tests don’t measure creativity well, they measure memorization and speed. Not bad characteristics, but not in the beginning of the creative process.
Creativity belongs in the workplace. Desperately. We are facing new problems and rapid change. We need to re-learn how to analyze problems, choose the best solution, persuade people to use it, introduce change, and fix mistakes. That’s what creativity does with steady use. And it’s ready for everyone who will risk change to try out.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach and trainer who is developing ways to bring creative thinking to the corporate world. Because it’s desperately needed.