From a very young age, I aspired to be creative. Perhaps not everyone does, but I know I am not alone in this aspiration either. Many of us look up to creative adults and role models around us and dream about having creative jobs where we invent things and make the world a better place. As we grow up, we learn the hard way that outside-the-box thinking and creativity is actually perceived as disruption, distraction. Inevitably we see the ugly reality, that, as Isaac Asimov states, "The world in general disapproves of creativity." We begin to feel discouraged about trying out unknown paths and experimenting.
Here I will be listing a few facts that tend to discourage creative thinking, and looking at what we can do to challenge this status quo. Evolutionarily speaking, our brains are wired to reject oppositions and unconventional ideas that challenge the way we think and operate because the brain loves to be lazy. As the central part of our body that consumes energy the most, it prefers to conserve energy, so it ultimately develops shortcuts to every solution. Shocker! A study in Cornell university shows “Most people view creativity as an asset -- until they come across a creative idea. That's because creativity not only reveals new perspectives; it promotes a sense of uncertainty.” Similarly, as a society, we resist the unknown and the new, because it makes us feel unsafe and uncomfortable about what’s about to come next. Therefore, we retreat to the known, traditional, tested, and validated methods and practices. In the end we are pulled from two sides: we promote, crave, and look for creativity as organizations, companies, and governments but at the same time our chemistry, biology, and psychology heavily reject creativity in every possible way.
So when all the cards are dealt against being creative, how can we nurture an innovative growth mindset and empower the creative people in our organizations? Here are a few tips for how to get there.
Embrace risk taking
If you want true success for your team, you better start getting used to feeling uncomfortable. If you want to train your brain to make further connections to break the norm and maximize innovative thinking, then stop being judgmental towards the “quirky” misfits. We have to get out of our comfort zones and embrace risk-taking. Fear of risk taking and failing at the end prevents us from doing new things. Every unknown will come with risks. While we wait for the perfect moment, the perfect pixel or the perfect market and for all the stars to align for success, we miss out on the opportunities to experiment, articulate new ideas, learn, and innovate.
There are types of design decisions that are less risky but the unique groundbreaking designs always originate from bold discussions and not fearing conflict.
Fail. A Ton!
Let your people fail and learn from their mistakes. I know you hear this a lot. I know there is this “failure embracing” saturation everywhere these days. But guess what! It’s crucial to your success to embrace your failures and make the best use of your learnings. Don’t forget what Einstein said "If you've never failed, you've never tried anything new.” Be honest with yourself. You won’t be able to get that thing (insert a solution, product, service, business model, …) in the first try. It will take time to iterate, test, validate, fail, make sense of that failure, and iterate again. Pursue bold ideas with energy and commitment and encourage your people to do the same. Fail fast and fail smart.
Champion your people
As a leader and thinker, you need to steer your team towards innovation and success. And it starts when you as the leader champion your people first, before your technology. Recognize people’s strengths and turn projects into opportunities to experiment, learn, and grow for your people.
Work on your diversity for f*ck sake. Bring diverse people who are driven and empowered to ask questions and challenge one another. Cherish the differences and build a capacity to capitalize on them as they complement your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Surround yourself with other disciplines. Open your ears, eyes, heart to new things, put yourself in their shoes. This will not only help you look at things from different perspectives and boost creativity in you, it will also help you build empathy for your people and appreciate the creativity they bring.
Build a common vision
Build a sense of common vision and shared goals where there is trust and no-judgement. Don’t get hung up on the ultimate conflict between what makes something unique and meaningful vs systematic and monetizable. Focus on what parts of human life you want to improve--loyalty, brand recognition, and revenue will eventually follow. Find what makes you, your company, your service authentic, work on that and share it widely with your people. Don’t just give them a job to pay bills. Give them a purpose to show up at work every single day.
Get out of the way
You always think this would come naturally, but in reality there are art directors that love to hover over people’s shoulders telling them what to do or managers that take great pleasure out of criticizing the shade of blue designers use. Create the conditions to be creative, to be safe and allow your people to drive and execute meaningful change. You hire your people for their expertise. Let them do their job. Trust your people that they will do what you hire them for.
We are striving to design for the increasing complexity of our modern digital age. Creativity plays an ever more crucial part in unlocking our potential to design novel ways to overcome these brand new challenges. You will see over time that killing your creativity biases, listening to your gut, taking risks, and valuing your people will help you create a more healthy, happy and successful place for yourself, your business, and your people.