I find it fascinating the number of people who equate creativity with artistry, and in turn, creativity with innovation. In my years working with individuals and organisations on culture, I’ve witnessed an interesting logic pattern.
It seems to run something like this:
“I am not artistic (I can’t draw or paint), therefore, I’m not creative. If I’m not creative, that means I cannot innovate.”
I'd like to wholeheartedly challenge this notion.
I was raised in a family of highly artistic people, but struggle to draw a stick figure. I can appreciate art and artistry, possess 100% enthusiasm for the artistic process, but have zero physical talent. As a young person, this really intrigued me. What exactly did it mean for me as a ‘creative person’?
I’ve come to believe that the act of being creative and and being an innovative person involves 3 abilities:
- An ability to be curious
- An ability to imagine and see other possibilities
- An ability to be optimistic
1. An ability to be curious.
Curiosity is one of the most valuable commodities a human being can possess. Curiosity allows an individual to transcend from a space of scarcity, to a space of abundance. The reason curiosity allows us to make this transition is that when we are curious, we look outside of ourselves for resources.
I have a young son, and everything he encounters in the world is a new and interesting stimulation on how the world works, what might be possible and what he knows. As adults, our curiosity can become dulled by a need to be right, to do things right, or to have all the answers. When we are curious, our behaviour is to engage with others, ask questions and listen. When we do this - and we are genuinely open to the data coming in - we achieve new insights, new knowledge and hopefulness.
2. An ability to imagine and see other possibilities.
One of my favourite quirks about us as human beings is that we suffer from a bias called the "false consensus effect". The false consensus effect looks like this: I believe that others in the world view the world the same way that I do. In fact, I think that they are a little odd if they view the world differently. Luckily for us, we are amazingly unique individuals. Just as our DNA differentiates us at a genetic level, our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and values are uniquely structured to be ours. This phenomenon continues to surprise us. I sometimes run an activity with groups where I ask them to choose the order in which they would complete 7 activities. In a group of around 20, it is extremely common that not one person has ordered the activities in the same way. Once we open ourselves up to the possibility that perhaps there is no one ‘right’ way of looking at the world, it frees us up to imagine infinite versions. Many of the organisations I have worked with have lost the ability to see another perspective; to imagine an answer from another point of view. This mindset is the enemy of innovation.
3. An ability to be optimistic.
"Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you are right." Henry Ford
Einstein famously said: “it is the theory which decides what we can observe”. Optimism is a lens through which we choose to view the world. It is our own personal theory around the intentions of others, how we choose to define experiences, and our hypothesis around the outcomes we will experience.
Optimism is a state of appreciation, a place where we seek out what is noble and virtuous in the world. We are optimistic when we observe and seek out what is good in a person, what works in a situation, what is right in the world. Optimism is about maintaining unwavering hope and a sense of possibility, regardless of the situation. It is about maintaining faith in humanity and the human spirit, based on a belief that every experience in life - good or bad - is a learning opportunity.
Optimism is a state that enables the entrepreneur who has failed a hundred times to try for the one hundred and first venture. In my experience, individuals who place themselves in a place of choice, a place where they look at how they can influence any given situation, are best placed for an optimistic outlook on life.
Being truly creative isn’t about art; it’s about cultivating a range of behaviours, values and beliefs. By looking at the habits of highly innovative people, we see patterns that can be replicated. We can witness these behaviours in organisations with famously innovative cultures: A belief that there is always more to learn; valuing curiosity and openness; a can-do attitude; asking for help, as well as a genuine curiosity about how we can shape the future.
Isn’t that something we can all do?