When creativity is mentioned in a work setting, many people shut down. The reaction is, “I’m not creative, so I’ll leave that to someone else.” We often mistakenly believe that to be creative is synonymous with artistic.
Artistic refers to working in the arts: painting, drawing, acting, writing, etc. or creating things that are aesthetically pleasing. It’s easy for us to see how advertising and marketing people need to be creative. But often we don’t think it’s territory for the rest of us.
We couldn’t be more wrong. Let me show you why.
What does it Mean to be Creative?
According to dictionary.com, the first definition of creative is
“to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.”
Being creative involves making something that wasn’t there before or transforming something that is already exists into something that is different. This could be an idea, product, service, process, form, etc.
Let’s compare that definition to something you had to do at work this week. How about that spreadsheet you had to develop to meet the needs of five different departments? Yep, sounds like creativity to me.
What about that customer who had an unusual need and you had to figure out a solution that worked for her and your company? Yes, this type of problem-solving certainly requires creativity.
Why Focus on Creativity at Work?
Being in human resources, my realm is the world of work. I’m passionate about creating great workplaces that engage the souls of the people in them. Creative ideas are born in the soul of an individual, so there is no more engaging work than that which is infused with creativity.
When individuals are engaged in work, they are more focused, happier, internally motivated and produce a superior result. The natural outcome is that of an improved product or service for the customer or member.
Organizations must consciously put practices in place to build a culture where creativity can survive and thrive. It won’t happen by itself or by simply telling employees to be more creative.
Creativity is Good for Business
Let me give you an example of what building a culture of creativity can do.
An Administrative Assistant is responsible for sending out letters to clients. His workload is too much for one person; he’s always in a rush. So, he uses a template letter, adds in the appropriate individual’s name and address, and mails the letter. Very straightforward, but also not very inspiring work.
But let’s give this Administrative Assistant the leeway to be creative. What if he customizes the letter to fit the language that particular client uses and also mentions recent interactions he’s had with this person in the letter? What if rather than using standard letter head, he creates a packet of materials to accompany the letter and invites the client to share it with others.
Did this task take more time? Certainly, but only an additional 20 minutes or so.
What is the organization buying for this time? The employee feels more control and freedom over his work. He feels the work expresses both himself and the true nature of the business. In turn, the client who gets the letter is impressed with the personal touches and extra effort that was put into the mailing. She places the packet in her briefcase and shares it with a colleague at her next meeting. That individual is interested in what the company has to offer, and places a call to the Administrative Assistant the next day.
What a different experience for everyone involved! Are you beginning to get a sense of the value of allowing and promoting creativity in your workplace?
How to Unleash More Creativity into Your Work
I just returned from New York City. I soaked in the creativity of the city and attended The Creativity Workshop facilitated by Shelley Berc and Alejandro Fogel. These two warm, supportive, creative people worked with a group of eleven of us over four days to coax more creativity out of us.
They shared with us that creativity is like a muscle in the body. It needs to be used regularly or it will atrophy. Even if you think you haven’t been creative in so long that it’s completely lost, it’s not. Your creativity is sitting patiently inside you, waiting for an invitation to play.
The first step is understanding, as we discussed above, what creativity is and how it can be a part of your everyday work life. Then, to start working your creative muscle, spend just ten minutes a day free writing, drawing, taking photographs or doing some other right brain activity of your choice.
You have just taken the first couple steps towards being more creative at work!
Reclaiming Our Birthright
As kids, our imaginations were going non-stop. Playing was our only job and it required no training. Creativity is innate to all human beings. As we grow up, external critics and fear of embarrassment teach us to hide our creativity.
Our society values logic, order and compliance with the norms above all else. Anything that is different is quickly put in its place. Unless of course you can prove that it will make money, another thing that our society places on a pedestal.
This is a topic that is of great significance. In our modern world of standardization, efficiency and consumerism, we have left creativity to the artists of the world, and left ourselves in a world of black and white.
Creativity isn’t for the chosen few. It is a birthright we all have as human beings. It feels good because it connects us to who we truly are.
So, stretch out on the floor, grab some colored pencils and doodle away!
It’s More Fun When We Share!
I hope this article prompts some thoughts about being creative and building cultures of creativity as well as some creative action. Please post your ideas and creativity experiments in the comment section below.
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