“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.” - Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
If we were to ask our kindergarten selves if we were creative, most of us would without a doubt answer yes. But, if we were to ask our teenage selves the same question, the reaction would likely be different. For most, that question would result in a self-reflective pause. By the time we reach our teens, our experiences and interactions have likely altered our idea of what it means to be creative. We live in a world that tends to imply that if you’re not excelling in the art room, you need to resign yourself to the fact that “creative” is not a word you identify with.
But the truth is, creativity is not an elusive talent that is unique to a few. The ability and desire to be creative is a human characteristic, not an individual one. The concept is not owned by a certain type of media. Creativity can be found in every corner of the human experience and needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and utilized - especially in the workplace.
Why creativity is not what you think
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” - J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan
Let’s start with what creativity is not. Creativity is not just about producing art. It’s not only about being able to draw, write poetry, or make music. We are all creative. As humans, we create art, but we also create systems, processes, concepts, relationships, and ideas.
By definition, creativity is “the ability to make new things or think of new ideas.” It is the tendency to recognize alternatives and uncover new possibilities. It’s about solving problems and finding better ways to communicate with others. Creativity can be as much about crafting something beautiful as it is about designing something useful.
It turns out that when we feel less-than-creative, it’s not because we inherently lack the quality. It’s because we teach ourselves to reject our ability to be such. Years ago, creativity researcher and general systems scientist Dr. George Land developed a wildly-successful creativity test that was used to determine the source of creativity. It was even used by NASA to select the most innovative scientists and engineers based on their “creative potential.”
As an experiment, the researchers tried the test on children - 1,600 of them - ranging in ages from three-to-five years old. They then re-tested the participants at 10 and 15 years of age. And while the intention was to unlock the source of the kids’ creativity, the study found something unexpected. The results concluded that, as we age, we learn non-creative behavior.
Aside from being a massive bummer, the results were a wake-up call. The study showed that, between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, the participant’s creativity decreased by a whopping 68%, then plummeted to a 96% decrease by adulthood. While many factors were considered, the conclusion was that a heavily-standardized educational system coupled with social norms have stifled the creative genius in all of us.
In the end, the study shows us that we all have the ability to be creative, or at least, we had it. So, can we get it back? How? In many ways, it’s simple. We all need to reconnect with our inner Peter Pan and simply believe we can fly.
Demystifying the creative process
“Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that - merely by being here - you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.” - Elizabeth Gilbert
As Steve Jobs famously said, “creativity is just connecting things.” Sounds simple, but just as most of us have disconnected from our creative selves at an early age, we can’t expect to reconnect without consciously thinking differently. Individually, sparking the creative mind may be as simple as changing a daily routine, environment, getting outside more, learning a new skill, meditating, or working out. But in a professional environment, if you need specific strategies to break barriers and tap into your team's creative potential.
According to Dr. Land, based on his studies and the brain scans he has dissected, fostering creativity comes down to the need for us to judge less and seek to understand more. This is especially relevant in the workplace where office politics, competitiveness, and fear of failure are often front and center.
It’s imperative to create a safe and open environment while introducing and incorporating various strategies and conditions that will foster the collective creative. From there, the sky’s the limit.
At A Little Bird, we know first-hand how critical a safe space is in extracting the best ideas. During campaign and strategy brainstorms, both internally and with our clients, we use rapid prototyping. These techniques have been proven to help people reach beyond their workplace norms and barriers and into their creative mind. But the only way this works is to insist on a safe space where crazy ideas are encouraged, and participants never say “no” to any idea – they build on it. It is in these spaces that the best ideas are allowed to flourish, which can then be translated into campaigns, processes, messaging, and more.
The future of creativity
A new report from the World Economic Forum found that creativity at work is going to be among the top three most important and in-demand skills by 2020. While the research is clear, companies need to also agree that unlocking each of our creative tendencies produces better outcomes.
Across every department, as leaders we need to invest in new ways of working that allow the most creative parts of each of our minds to thrive. It’s time for a paradigm shift, one in which we extend creativity from the easel and onto the whiteboard.