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Creative Vitality

Used with permission from Executive Excellence Publishing


Fostering creativity is vital to generating more value for the company, for the customer, and for the employee.

Pablo Picasso once said, "Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness." Picasso implied that what is good and proper inhibits creativity. I believe he's right. The status quo in many businesses is a vacuum waiting for an infusion of creativity. But it takes courageous leadership.

The creativity referred to here is any originality, innovation, or inventiveness that adds value to individuals, teams, and enterprises.

Every person and business commands this asset. There is not a dearth of creativity, but there is a dearth of leaders and managers who have the skills and confidence to birth it, grow it, and engage it.

Customers, clients, and channel partners love creative solutions, service, and relationships. Management's task is to obtain and maintain an abundance of creators and nurture their growth. The need for creativity has a geometric relationship to the degree of change your business and industry is undergoing. It is also needed in geometric proportion to your market and competitive stresses. Creative employees are ultimately the potential destroyers of your nicely ordered systems and organizations, but they are also the builders of your future successes. They are the bane of the status quo and the superstars on the winningest teams.

Nurturing Creativity

Having trouble understanding what causes creativity to flower or fade? Here are some pointers.

1. Recognize the forces of light. Creativity wells up from the personal motivations of the creator, revealing the self, and his or her values and visions. Creators' motivation could be dissatisfaction, recognition, competitiveness, fiscal compensation, advancement, or the pure pleasure of creating. Creators may be rebels or insurrectionists, and so it takes a competent leader to tolerate and positively direct that energy. Some of the best ideas often come from people who do not "fit" exactly. These less-than-perfect "fits" abrade their environment, constantly twisting and turning, spawning ideas to rid themselves of their uncomfortableness.

People who love to play at the edge of the envelope are priceless possessions. The capacity and desire to move and to progress is a key attribute. "Antsiness" is a requisite.

Emotions facilitates the creative process. About what are your employees passionate? Ask. Look. Listen. Can you create passion? Effective leaders can and do. People who thrive on questions, issues, and opportunities will spawn the preponderance of your creative solutions. Nurture, cultivate, and reward these forces of light.

2. Recognize the forces of darkness. Lack of confidence, fear of change, stubbornness, and over-concern about impressions stymie and thwart individual creativity. People who are afraid to expose themselves for reasons of ridicule will keep ideas to themselves. Deprecating self-estimations and pre-judgment of ideas are personally devastating and organizationally debilitating and could be robbing your enterprise of wealth.

Dogmatists and politicists are enemies of enterprise creativity. Excessive order and regimen are obstructions. Entrenched cultures are strictures. Passivity and apathy are roadblocks. Tough-minded pragmatists are adversaries. Whiners and complainers stultify. And fear and anxiety inhibit.

The dark forces of envy, constraint and conformism attempt to submerge creativity or twist it to meet its own selfish needs. Recognize and root out, and counsel or eliminate the dark forces.

Fostering Creativity

Fostering creativity is, then, a matter of executing the following six requisites:

1. Vitalizing words. The vocabulary of the creativity is special. How often are the following phrases in your communiques? Let's make-believe. Give me something off the wall. For the fun of it. Shock us. Give me a wild scenario. Loosen up. Thanks for thinking.

How often are questions like this in your dialogues? What can you suggest? What are your thoughts? What would you do? What should it sound like? How do you picture it? What else can we try?

Creativity flowers when you let the minds--plus your mouth and your mouse--run free.

2. Vitalizing tools. Poor Picasso would be in trouble if he didn't have a full array of brushes, palette knives, and paints. Exposure to the latest materials and new tools is a great stimulant to creativity.

The potential array of creativity-enhancing tools varies greatly, but there are several common ones: computer technologies, communications technologies, presentation technologies, document management technologies. Consider how outside information and networking resources, such as associations and libraries, are fertile grounds to stimulate new ideas.

Availability of creativity-enhancing implements means nothing without know-how. Training and understanding of their capabilities is mandatory. Ask yourself: Will what you're about to acquire free up your people to think and be more creative?

3. Vitalizing environments. Environments that awaken creativity are physical, structural, and attitudinal. Take a hard look at individual and group work spaces and consider how you can use the following characteristics to create a more stimulating physical environment. Color. Space. Light. Sound. Decoration. Location. Scale. Age. Ambience. Repair. These are often the catalysts and fuels that invigorate people's creative capacities.

Consider how you can create a more invigorating structural environment through diversity. Exposure to dramatically different people and relationships is stimulating. Do you have a place inside your ego that permits flexibility, delegation, restructuring, taking the back seat, and experimentation?

Environments can foster committed participation. A major responsibility for leaders in all business functions is to continually create environments that permit wholesale buy-in. A static environment is a dead environment. Keep churning it.

4. Vitalizing management. Set creative direction by challenging conventional wisdom, preventing anything from becoming embedded, hiring the best people, and never being satisfied. Meet regularly to brainstorm solutions, ask thought-provoking conceptual questions, and make research-provoking assignments. Be prepared for and be willing to accept unfinishedness. Creativity doesn't always result in final solutions. Pushing the creator for immediate conclusion and finality may get you nowhere. People expose their being, their self-image, their values, and their ego when they create. Many protect themselves by not divulging what to them are "crazy" or incomplete thoughts. Your good judgement can manage their self-protection mechanism. You don't want your creator to crawl back into his or her shell, never to emerge again.

5. Vitalizing leadership. Creative people come from all backgrounds and walks of life. No on has the franchise. Thinking, engaged people are creative people. Accept the random bombardment of ideas. Creative fragments are good. They can tell you a lot, just as a fossil fragment can. Fragments can gather and grow and be pieced together over time. Be lavish in your rewards and praise, and have the courage to implement what your people create. Don't worry--they'll be more rigorous than you in scrubbing risky ideas.

6. Keep stirring the juices and maintain the momentum. Tolerate a little craziness, but remember, creativity must always be tied to substance. Include all your businesses, functions, and processes in a vitalized creativity plan.

Remember that limits are required. Just as an artist deals with, and welcomes, the edge of a canvas, your people will appreciate and deal with constraints. In the old school, winners pushed their creative people, asking for ideas and opinions. Today there is an expectation for creativity. Creativity is a growing corporate core competency that will pull you into the future.

I close with another Picasso remark that "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Go to it! Embed creativity in your culture.

John W. Cebrowski is president of Sales Builders Inc., an international marketing and sales consulting firm providing creative solutions in Fairfax, VA 703-591-3232.

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