The Myths and Realities of Creativity
Are you creative? Most people, if asked, say they’re not—but they’re wrong. One of the most common myths about creativity is that only artists, writers, and musicians are creative. Another myth is that creativity depends entirely on the person and not on the person’s environment. Furthermore, there's a perception among managers that most employees aren't creative.
The reality is that almost everyone is capable of doing some level of creative work. Research has found that employees are more creative when they view their work environment in a positive light, feel they have the support of their manager and coworkers, find their projects challenging, and have autonomy to complete their projects.
An inducement to creativity is to work with people from outside your familiar domain. For example, an experiment in social chemistry called Wok+Wine brings together people from a wide range of perspectives and interests. What would happen, one of the founders asked, if you put a VC, a material scientist, a fashion designer, a teacher, and an author at the same table—and then fed them shrimp? Very quickly, ideas began to flow.
This sort of gathering suggests we might all benefit by spending more time (or any non-project time) with people from other areas of the organization. While doing so, asking very basic questions, even ones that seem naïve, can trigger creative ideas and flashes of insight.
Unfortunately, in many organizations, the chain of command stifles creativity. When creative ideas originate at lower levels of the hierarchy, they have to crawl their way up the organization chart. When higher-ups reject innovative ideas, it’s often because they lack an understanding of the value and applicability of the ideas.
To build a culture that respects the chain of command while giving creative ideas room to grow, one company, Rite-Solutions, developed a system by which it gives every employee $10,000. No, not real money, but money-equivalent for investing on the company’s internal idea stock market. Without requiring approval from management, any employee can propose an idea by listing it as a stock and soliciting investment. (Check out the details; it’s fascinating!)
Other companies inspire creativity by allowing time off to innovate. But whether or not your organization encourages creativity, you can harness your own creativity. In experiments, social psychologists have found objects and pictures can trigger—or prime—creative thinking. So, for example, participants primed with pictures associated with business, such as briefcases, pens and commuter trains, became more competitive.
By extension, one way to prime yourself for creativity is to generate an awareness of what you want to accomplish by surrounding yourself with images, sayings, articles, poems, and other items that relate to what you want to create.
What does your organization do (or, alas, fail to do) to inspire creativity?