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Leading with creativity
Creativity is widely considered to be one of the most critical leadership competencies of the future. With it comes a need for open-ended thinking, exploration and collaboration — all of which are keys to bringing creativity to life. What about well-established organizations where routine, tradition and silos reign, can creativity really come alive there? More ambitious still, is it possible for someone with an “innovate or die” mindset to find a home in an organization that’s been around a while?
If someone said the answer was absolutely yes, would you believe them?
In my experience, there are dozens of mental roadblocks that pop up as soon as you even think about bringing creative or innovative thinking to a place where it may not be embraced. Below I tackle five of them so you can get them out of your way and get back to work!
Roadblock #1: Expecting it to feel easy
There’s no doubt about it — the creative process is often messy and unpredictable, just like life. Sometimes you are clear and inspired and other times you’re confused and pessimistic. Once you’ve been in a situation where creativity seems to be working and you’re totally on a roll, it’s easy to start chasing that feeling. Next thing you know, you’re half expecting every brainstorm or collaboration to feel that way and that’s simply not going to happen. If you can remind yourself that it may not feel easy, your next thought can be: that’s ok, because I can do hard things.
Roadblock #2: Hoping for permission
One of the truths about bringing creative or innovative thinking to an organization that isn’t already designed around these things is that you may find yourself on the creativity roller coaster alone. If this happens, people aren’t going to extend an invitation and lead the way. Nope. Chances are, you need to be the one to step up and do that for others, regardless of your position in the organization. When you stop waiting for permission, you can start weaving creativity into your work in a variety of ways and inviting others to join you.
Roadblock #3: Holding out for game changers
Often we think that being a champion of creativity means making waves and creating disruptive changes. And sometimes it does. But it can also look like making subtle, persistent shifts that change the way an organizations thinks, plans, collaborates or serves over time. When you stop holding out for grand gestures, you can start paying closer attention to the small details, like the questions you can ask, the moments when you can suggest a new idea, or the meetings where you can step up and use the whiteboard, even if no one asked you to (see #2). These little offerings won’t be game changers on their own, but they can certainly change the culture of a place and lead to transformation over time.
Roadblock #4: Seeing creativity as an output
While there are few things more satisfying than producing a tangible, finishing product, the truth is that creativity and innovation are journeys, not destinations. The key to staying motivated through what can feel like a never-ended mission is to aim for specific milestones along the way. Even if your supervisor or team doesn’t structure things this way, do yourself a favour and do it anyway. Reflect on how often you need to experience that feeling of “being done” and then set your schedule, to do list and mind up to get it.
Roadblock #5: Trying to innovate everything
When you’re a person who sees opportunity everywhere, you need to make focus and discipline your friends. Not every aspect of something has to be changed in order for it to be markedly better — organizations included. As soon as you stop trying to make everything as creative or innovative as it can possibly be, you’ll have the freedom to pick your battles and in doing so, set yourself up for more enjoyment and success.
It’s easy to say creativity and innovation “doesn’t work here,” but imagine how much more could be possible if instead we asked, “How might I make it work here?”
Exploring the depth of possibility in Nova Scotia. Laura Whitman is a creative storyteller, strategist and Bluenoser by choice with a passion for courageous ideas.