4 Ways to Encourage and Appreciate Creativity

March 3, 2019

Most people live their life thinking that they are not, and never will be creative. However, science tells us otherwise. Much like traits such as intelligence and empathy, one’s creativeness can evolve and grow over time.

Businesses often overlook the power of creativity to grow, innovate, and successfully solve problems. Throughout the day we are bombarded by situations that can make it difficult to focus on solving problems, rather than simply “dealing with” them. Creativity is something that is often misunderstood and undervalued as a leadership skill. By understanding and developing your own creativity, you will more effectively solve problems and innovate.

Mindset Matters

Taking a growth mindset approach to creativity means that our creative abilities are not fixed. We can improve over time with diligent practice and intentional effort. A wide variety of organizational problems are caused by complex interactions of many causes and effects. By fostering critical thinking and creative problem solving skills, these issues will diminish over time. However, issues will never stop. Situations evolve over time. Solutions to problems will create new questions which lead to more problems, which leads to more solutions. This increases the need for developing our ability to see problems as opportunities and collaborate on solving them.

Which Creative Archetype Are You?

In my experience, there are 4 main categories of creatives.

The Practical Magicians – This type of creativity is often the least recognized or appreciated. It does not look like paint on canvass with beautiful colors. Rather, it is the brilliant solution that is so workable and utilitarian in its efficiency, that it brings chaos to its knees. Their best creativity and problem solving usually happens when they are in the action and well trained. They use their skills to creatively execute, troubleshoot, and engineer solutions that can make even broken things work. It’s likely they often hear: “How did you do that?”

The Idea Factory – These thinkers have little affection for arbitrary rules and limitations. They are often visionaries who can image many different solutions to a complex problem. Their ideas may not be practical, or easy to communicate. These creatives use their idea generating to ask “what if?” or “wait...but why?” in order to push the limit of what’s possible or to uncover truth. They sometimes have trouble fitting into larger society because of their need to be free from boxes and categories. They often hear: “That’ll never work.”

The Systems Thinker – This type of thinker uses abstract reasoning to understand a problem by seeking to understand the underlying system that is at play, and then creating harmony within that system. Once that system is discovered, they lay out logical, strategic steps needed to fix, improve, or revise that broken system to prevent issues from continuing. Because these systems may be difficult to explain, these types are often misunderstood. They often hear: “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

The Future Focused – These creative types are constantly anticipating problems and solutions in a cause-and-effect manner. They do this with the conceptual knowledge they have accumulated throughout life and use this knowledge as a framework for communicating ideas and coming up with solutions to problems. These problems may not have happened yet, but they will if certain steps are not taken. These types use their creativity to organize ideas in a way that brings structure, meaning, story and design to something that may be otherwise mechanical in nature. Their skill is in connecting the dots and pulling in ideas, metaphors, and concepts from multiple subject areas to present in way that makes sense. They often hear: “We don’t need to do that.”

Many people will probably identify with more than one of these types. By recognizing different types of creativity in ourselves and others, you can begin to value the diversity that each one of us brings to the table. Lack of understanding and appreciation of creative ability often leaves highly creative people feeling frustrated, demoralized, and defeated. By creating a culture that appreciates and develops creativity, companies will notice a visible increase in the quality of collaboration, innovation, and problem solving throughout the organization.

Methods of Generating Creativity

Creative abilities are heavily influenced by the environment. If an environment is not one which embraces new ideas, holds safe space for expression of those ideas, and integrates those ideas with the purpose of solving problems, innovation will not occur.

The Importance of Space. Space for creativity is like oxygen to fire. It is in openness that ideas are allowed to breathe, flow freely, and time to grow. This means environments with open minds, a free sharing of ideas, ample time, and the psychologically safe space needed for those ideas to take hold. Without the proper time set aside for creative pursuits, it’s impossible for innovation to thrive.

This is precisely why Google encourages their employees to take 20% of their time to pursuit creative endeavors. They know that by leaving space for creativity, they make room for ideas to come to life. While this may not be realistic for many companies, small steps can be made to greatly enhance the amount and quality of creativity in your company.

The Importance of Safety. If space is the oxygen for the creative fire, psychological safety is the kindling. The fear of failure, ridicule, or judgement can stifle creativity before it begins.

Here are a few ways to encourage creativity:

  1. Promote an inclusive environment. Recognizing and celebrating diversity of perspectives is fundamental to enhancing creativity. This is everything from race, age, and gender all the way to unique creative abilities. Diversity is the lifeblood of creativity and continual improvement. Observe interactions around your company. Are new ideas and perspectives encouraged or frowned upon? When an idea is rejected, ask: Why was it rejected? Was it based on merit, groupthink, evidence, bias, or assumption? During a problem solving session, take a pause to reflect on these types of questions.
  2. Let your mind wander. Not all problems can or should be solved right away. Setting aside time to intentionally let your mind wonder allows the exploration possibilities and creates the mental space needed to piece together solutions. Doing so will help take a bigger picture view of the situation and identify all factors at play. Building routine into this practice is beneficial and can be used as a way to trigger the mind into quickly problem solving mode. Find a quiet place that works well for you and go there when you need to.
  3. Practice Mindfulness. Regularly practicing mindfulness can help reduce cognitive noise that distracts us from focusing on the problem at hand. In this way, mindfulness creates the necessary space in the mind for ideas and solutions to breathe and flow freely. It also allows us to be more present and aware when a solution does appear.
  4. Foster Open-Minded Collaboration. Open minds are able to see more than one way of solving a problem. Many people think they have an open mind, but when someone disagrees with them, they quickly go on the offensive to attack and destroy their perceived opponent. If one’s vision is narrowed on a single solution, better possibilities may be missed. To best foster open-mindedness, allow those to speak that point to potential issues or ask “why?”. Listen with the intent to truly understand where the other person is coming from. Meet them where they are and help build consensus through integrating some of their ideas into your own. In the business world, rarely does innovation happen by the ideas or creativity of one person. Innovation is a collective achievement.

The pursuit of the right environment for creativity to flourish is difficult but fruitful. Companies who intentionally create environments where creativity is appreciated, nurtured, and rewarded are the ones who see the most innovation, collaboration, and continuous improvement.