WE ARE DAMAGED GOODS
Unlike many other attributes that people aspire to, I find that people have fairly extreme views on their own creative ability. When you ask the question ‘are you creative?’ they tend to put themselves in two camps. The confident-yet-modest “oh yeah I’m quite creative actually” or the dismissive “I’m not creative”. The answer comes with no hesitation and the belief is firmly engrained in one’s psyche. On further investigation signs point to significant moments or the influence of others in affecting people’s creative confidence. We are in effect, damaged goods. Like anybody who has had a bad break-up or been bitten by a ferocious dog, the moment lives with us for a long time and sub consciously becomes a much bigger event than it actually was.
Creativity is an emotional pursuit where we share a piece of ourselves, and if we don’t get the response we want, it hurts. It really hurts. At sixteen I was a prolific songwriter, gigging and recording and loving every moment. At nineteen I joined a very talented group of musicians who were all degree level music students. In one of my first rehearsals with them one of my song ideas was discarded as it wasn’t musically ‘valid’. It took me at least 5 years to finish writing another song; those darn demons talk loud.
Despite this, in my working life I always had the reputation “Get Matt in. He’s fabulous with ideas.” I have spent the last decade training and coaching thousands of people on unlocking their own creative ability.
Albert Einstein stated that “creativity is just intelligence having fun” and once you get your head around the concept that creativity isn’t something you have or you don’t, it is easier to find your way along the creative path.
Here are a few tips and provocations on how to do so. But remember, it starts with you and when you find your mojo you won’t want to turn back.
THE HARD FACTS
Creativity is a word banded around businesses and sits in many vision and values statements. IBM’s global CEO study consistently shows creativity to be the most important leadership attribute. However, the world of business is a daunting place for people to experiment with creativity, the fear of exposing oneself is prolific. The easy route is to follow the norms and the pack. In Adobe’s Creativity study 75% of people agreed that creativity is the key to unlocking economic growth. However only 1 in 4 people felt as though they had the permission to be creative in their day-to-day work. Leaders want creative output but value their preconceptions of a ‘normal’ workplace with people ‘looking’ busy and efficient, more.
A lot of people put creativity out of reach. Ask them what pursuits they associate with creativity and they will give you answers embedded in their subconscious. Painters, musicians, writers and inventors. Referring to extreme characters in history: Dali, Mozart, Shakespeare and Edison. They often cite other people in the business they work in. The whacky marketing director or the extrovert head of sales, who is just so funny when he presents! Or a link is made to business ‘disruptors’ such as Uber and Airbnb.
Wooooah. Stop. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself!
Creativity can be learnt. The gift that creative people have is their self belief. They are creative because they think they are and are persistent in the pursuit of their dream. Our mind affects how we see ourselves. As a child growing up Pablo Picasso was not seen as having any great artistic talent, he was just encouraged by his artist father to believe that he was. Ray Bradbury set himself a challenge to write one short story every week. In took ten years and 520 stories until he had one strong enough to publish.
Creativity also comes in small moments. We are surrounded with aspirational TV shows like Dragon’s Den and listen to TED talks from amazing entrepreneurs who started with nothing, but you don’t have to launch the next Spotify in your business to qualify as a creator. Modern society in its state of flux offers endless opportunities to disrupt but in the last half century there has been more value added to businesses through incremental innovation than disruption. Ideas can be simple. A waiter at the Four Seasons hotel group once noticed that it is annoying for guests when you have to keep asking them if they are drinking still or sparkling water when they are topping them up over dinner. So he suggested putting a place mat under glasses containing sparkling water and not under still when the first glass was poured. This way nobody need be disturbed. One of many ideas that make the Four Seasons arguably the best hotel service in the world.
Simple tweaks to business as usual can be highly impactful.
So, knock creativity off its pedestal and find your own language that works for you.
AWARENESS IS KEY
Do you know when you’re at your most creative? Where are you and what are you doing? I have asked those questions all around the world and the most popular answers include ‘in the shower’, ‘socialising with friends’ or ‘driving’. In fact the number one answer in a survey we conducted at Upping Your Elvis was ‘in bed’. The least likely place is at your desk. In the words of the American poet Robert Frost “The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”
This is a sample of a chapter in the book Success Uncovered. The chapter is written by Matt Bolton-Alarcón.