Creativity can be intimidating and subjective, and the information on the subject overwhelming. At any point in their careers people can be deemed creative ‘haves’ or ‘have nots’ and this can influence the way they think about themselves and others.
I first became interested in the L&D aspect of creativity when I became responsible for driving creativity in a 100-strong WPP-owned PR agency where ideas were its lifeblood. It dawned on me that despite being labelled ‘creative’ myself, I didn’t know any formal techniques or processes. Throughout my 15-year career up to that point, I had used my intuition and just got on with it. I honed my skills on the job learning through trial and error and from some talented folk along the way.
When I became a Creative Director, I went looking for the answers to the many questions I had - including the one that I am most often asking in my own training workshops - is it really possible to develop creative skills and behaviours or is it just a case of you have what you’re born with?
I read everything I could find and set about learning and practising the creativity tools that I didn’t even know existed when I started.
In Your Creative Element is the handbook I wish I’d been given when I first became responsible for driving creativity and innovation in that business.
In my book I identify 62 ‘creative elements’ that are at play during the creative process. What I discovered in my research is that there are certain characteristics that are common to people who are able to deliver creatively. It’s a peek into the operating systems, if you like, of truly creative individuals.
Having now trained more than 10,000 people in creative thinking at companies like Sky Media and Vodafone, I believe wholeheartedly that bringing your creativity to any business is something we’re all capable of with effort and practice.
You might not all be the next Richard Branson, but you can certainly up our game considerably by embracing these three things:
1. Being open
Openness – one of the so called ‘big 5’ personality traits is integral to being creative. Research by NESTA shows that is the number one factor that will determine whether an individual and company will demonstrate creative output.
Openness refers to how receptive someone is to new experiences and ideas and it’s essential if you want to be creative. A good way to gauge your current approach is to ask how many things you do as a matter of routine:
- Do you always walk the same way home from work?
- Do you always listen to the same music or radio station or read the same news source?
- How open are you to having your own ideas challenged or taking on a different point of view?
Even people who consider themselves to be pretty receptive to new ideas can be surprised by their answers to these questions, as it’s common for people to settle into patterns that don’t stretch us. Many people quietly enjoy this state of effortless familiarity because it’s comfortable!
But if you want to be creative, you need to have a broad frame of reference on the world. Which means seeing new things, meeting different people and developing new skills. It also means putting your ego to one side from time to time to consider that other people’s ideas might actually be better than yours and be prepared to develop with their ideas rather than your own.
How to get out of your own comfort zone and to explore your own biases? When you’ve got an idea you’re really wedded to find someone to take the absolute opposite position and argue against you with a view to getting a fresh perspective. Or try a pre-mortem – consider everything that could go wrong with your idea or proposal BEFORE you start.
2. The ability to accept failure is part of the creative process
Accepting failure in business isn’t just about prototyping physical products to see what works, it’s about getting out there and bench-testing all of those ideas and concepts that would be easier and safer to simply shelve. It’s about understanding that it’s OK not to get things right every time – and for management to give their teams the permission to think a little differently without fear of being fired or ridiculed if they fall.
But when was the last time you added ‘please fail’ to your personal development plans? And that’s the rub.
For those who fear failure to the point that they refuse to try anything new or different, growing a business may be nigh on impossible. We all know the cautionary tales of businesses like Kodak who stopped breaking new ground, taking risks and moving forward.
For individuals and the companies they work for it’s not about the failures, but about how you move forward from them. It’s about another element – Grit.
Because failure hurts.
Believe me I know, I’ve pitched for (and lost many) hundreds of pieces of business in my former PR career. But with failure often comes some sort of Eureka! moment. Out of the ashes comes the phoenix. Out of the Apple Lisa came the iMac.
Out of 5,126 failed attempts came James Dyson’s revolutionary dual cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner. As my colleague Elizabeth always says “when you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”
3. Demonstrate grit: the long and winding road to creative success
If there is one thing that all truly successful creative people demonstrate in spades, it’s the element of Grit - without it even the best ideas can wither and die.
American psychologist and Ted Talk favourite Angela Lee Duckworth describes grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.”
When as little as one in 3,000 crude ideas (according to research) makes it far as “the real world”, Duckworth’s definition certainly rings true. She adds that grit is “living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
You can take a test to assess your own and your team’s levels of ‘grittiness’ – try Duckworth’s grit scale here.
So ask yourself this the next time your great idea hits its first hurdle: is this the idea that you’re willing to stick with to the very end? What are you prepared to sacrifice to get there?