There may be no entrepreneurial attribute more misunderstood than creativity. Some people think the world is made of up creative folks (artists, writers, actors, etc.) and non-creative types (accountants, insurance agents, etc.). This, I think, confuses creativity with “artsy.”
Merriam-Webster defines creativity as the “ability to produce something new through imaginative skill.” That's closer perhaps, but still too narrow a definition. Does creativity depend on being inventive, or can you be both derivative and creative?
For entrepreneurs, creativity can run the gamut. There are plenty of creative (in the artsy sense of the word) business owners, lots of non-creatives who run creative businesses, and more creative accountants and insurance agents than you might think.
The X Factor
Whatever creativity is, it’s highly coveted. In Adobe’s global State of Create study conducted last year, 80 percent of those surveyed thought creativity was “critical to economic growth.” In a more recent and smaller economic survey, presentation platform Prezi polled its business community, who agreed creativity is the most valuable asset a business can have and the most important factor for success.
This was echoed by a creativity study conducted earlier this year by Time magazine, the Motion Picture Association of America and Microsoft in which 83 percent of those surveyed agree that “creativity is important in their professional lives” and 94 percent say creativity is the characteristic they most value in others.
Americans are very nationalistic when it comes to creativity, voting the U.S. the most creative country in both the Time and Adobe surveys. According to Adobe, however, the rest of the world—except Japan—thinks Japan is the most creative country.
We often think in clichés when it comes to the creative genius--the crazy artist who works in isolation, coming up with one crazy but great idea after another. What's more in demand today, however, are collaborative workers who collectively generate ideas. In the Prezi survey, 97 percent of the businesses surveyed say “groups are necessary to generate ideas” and in fact the “collaborative team player” is valued slightly more than the “creative and innovative thinker.”
So if creativity is so in demand and we Americans think we’re so creative, why aren’t your employees churning out more creative solutions? Adobe found that only 25 percent of people feel they’re living up to their creative potential. The answer to this lack of creativity? Most likely, it's you. One-third of the businesses surveyed by Prezi point to multitasking as the culprit, calling it the “biggest roadblock to brainstorming.” And in the Adobe study, 80 percent of Americans say there's an increasing demand for them to be productive rather than creative.
Are you stifling creativity in your business by making unrealistic demands? The Great Recession put increased pressure on a lot of entrepreneurs to do more with less. But trying to get more work out of your employees leaves them less time to be creative. As the Time survey points out, 58 percent of people say creative ideas are “usually sparked by sudden inspiration.” And 50 percent say when they think creatively, they think in pictures (which as a writer fascinates me). Do you offer your employees the space—physical as well as mental—to do that?
Kathleen D. Vohs, a professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, recently wrote in The New York Times about the results of experiments she and some colleagues conducted which concluded that people in messy rooms think more creatively than those in tidy spaces. Other studies, she notes, conducted at Northwestern University corroborate her conclusions.
Vohs points out the trend toward “minimalist design” in today’s offices. Not only are private offices out of favor, she says, but many businesses are eliminating private cubicles, and that means employees have “less room to make a mess.” Vohs is concerned that while “the working world is abuzz about cultivating innovation and creativity,” that pursuit “might be hampered by the minimalist movement. While cleaning up certainly has its benefits, clean spaces might be too conventional to let inspiration flow.”
Additional blame for the lack of creativity goes to the educational system. About one-third of those surveyed by Time and nearly two-thirds of Americans in the Adobe survey say “our creativity is being stifled by our educational system.” Part of this is because we’re teaching process both at school and at our businesses, rather than underscoring the (I think creative) ability to be flexible, responsive and think on your feet.
And then there’s risk, a trait most entrepreneurs claim they have in abundance. Maybe you did when you started your company, but are you more risk-averse now that you’ve got something to lose if things go awry? In the Adobe survey, 69 percent of Americans say “risk aversion [presumably yours] is stifling their creativity.”
Most people don't believe we're born creative. Time reports 71 percent of us think creativity is driven by both nature and nurture. If that's the case, then the steps are clear. If you:
- Give your staff the time to pursue creative ideas,
- Don’t shoot the messenger—don’t expect every idea to work, and don’t blame your staff when one doesn’t,
- Stop worrying about your employees’ messy desks, and in fact give them the space to make a mess,
- Don’t let your fear of risk stifle the creative process by following the “if it ain’t broke, break it” philosophy, and
- Encourage collaboration, and realize some of the most creative ideas may not take place inside the office,
then you’ll be nurturing creativity, which can only breed success.
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