The Truth About Creativity
No matter the industry, most of us are called upon to uniquely solve problems for our clients or employers–to grow sales, reduce customer churn or increase a return on investment. We are called upon in one way or another, to “be creative.” But what does that actually mean?
Today’s Wikipedia definition of “creativity” has very high expectations associated with it, “a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.” No pressure–just have a phenomenal experience and create something new and valuable on someone else’s timeline.
The truth is in the business world the creative process is very uncomfortable and messy before it yields anything awesome.
The Romans believed they “had” a genius, a totally separate being that contributed to a great work of art or literature. So if the artist created a piece that won wild acclaim, he couldn’t take all the credit; his genius helped. If the writer composed a work that was deemed terrible, he was not totally to blame; his genius didn’t pull his weight. Either way it relieved some of the pressure of the job of “creativity” from the individual.
Today we recognize that genius ideas typically come from collaborative creativity. “Innovation is voluntary,” explain the coauthors of Collective Genius. “No one can be compelled to make a contribution or to care about a problem. Unless people freely open their minds and hearts, they’re unlikely to offer their best ideas or endure the sense of vulnerability and anxiety that innovating creates.” In her article “What Kind of Leadership Inspires Collective Genius,” Caroline Kelcher says, “innovation is a ‘team sport.’ Leaders must support the sharing and debate of ideas and encourage learning and development, while simultaneously demanding performance.”
It sounds simple to say, “let’s have a team brainstorm session,” bring some good snacks and comfortable chairs and think a team is going to be able to throw around some ideas that end up producing a great one, but it’s not that easy.
First of all, teams must come together more than once. They need to have time away from the subject matter to let their ideas percolate and then regroup over time. Gerard Marketing Group’s teams use shared documents for team members to jot down thoughts and ideas in between meetings and spark new ideas from one another when the time is right for them.
Not only are multiple touch points required at just the right time, meetings also need to have active, but managed, debate. Studies have shown that task conflict on a team can trigger better and more original solutions. This is usually uncomfortable for most, but healthy. By challenging the status quo and each other, team members are prompted to delve into their differing perspectives in a way they may not have otherwise.
Relational conflict, on the other hand is debilitating to creativity and innovation. Studies have shown this type of conflict is thought to narrow the range of attention and produce rigid thinking. When relational conflict is high in a team, basic functioning such as information exchange and attentiveness to others’ ideas are impeded, effectively lowering the capacities for creative thought and innovation.
So team members must also be able to agree to disagree amicably, because productive, relevant disagreement is essential to progress. A powerful creative team has trust in one another and is able to put aside their egos, fears and imposed time limitations. To be effective they must have a variety of backgrounds, but also be enough alike in their communication style to truly understand each other.
The magic of “being creative” demands much of every team member that comes to the table engaged, actively listening and checking their ego at the door. When a team can achieve this kind of working relationship, phenomenal solutions do happen.